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Independent Monitoring Commission

6. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the most recent report from the Independent Monitoring Commission. [48309]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): This is a positive report, which states that the IRA leadership is delivering its promise to end terrorism, but there is still too much local criminality.

Rosie Cooper: Although I accept that the IMC report referred to localised IRA criminality, does my right hon. Friend believe that the report confirms that there is a world of difference in the situation in Northern Ireland, even compared with just 12 months ago?

Mr. Hain: Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is right that the IMC did confirm that there has been a huge change, a sea change, compared with what occurred even a year ago—let alone five, 10, 20 or 30 years ago, when people were being killed or bombed pretty well every day in Northern Ireland. That is why, as the report confirms, the leadership of the republican movement has set a strategic course on democratic and peaceful politics. We ought to support that, while insisting that local criminality is stopped and closed down for ever.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State realise that, no matter how much guff and bluff there is from Ministers, Sinn Fein-IRA
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and their colleagues are still involved in criminal activity in Northern Ireland? Those who are connected to that are not worthy of being called true democrats and we should move on without them.

Mr. Hain: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that any republicans, including from the Provisional IRA, who are still involved in especially petrol smuggling and cigarette smuggling—the IMC report says that some are even though operations have been closed down—must stop their activities. The IMC will continue to report on such activity and we will continue to demand that it is stopped. We will continue to support the police and the Assets Recovery Agency in their work.

The hon. Gentleman will also agree that the report confirms a massive change that is light years away from the old dark days of violence in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein leaders have played an important part in achieving that objective.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does the Secretary of State recognise that parties would do better to reflect on the full reality of the IMC report rather than reacting to reactions? Does he agree that both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party, for their own purposes, have exaggerated the negative aspects of the IMC report rather than the positive aspects? Does he also agree that the Governments would have helped the reception of the IMC report if they had published the decommissioning body's report earlier rather than leaving it to the same day and causing confusion?

Mr. Hain: I do not agree with the latter point, but I very much accept the hon. Gentleman's first point. Some Sinn Fein leaders have said that the organisation is squeaky clean and some Unionists have said that there has been no change. Both statements are untrue. There has been huge change, but there is still too much local criminality, which we intend to stamp out.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [49474] Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 8 February.

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.

Mr. Jones: Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the House that he would have to listen carefully to what the people were saying on the question of police restructuring. This week, the Government announced that they were pressing ahead with plans to amalgamate the Welsh police forces despite the intense opposition of Welsh police authorities. Just how loudly do the people of Wales have to shout before the Prime Minister starts to listen?
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The Prime Minister: Surely, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is, in fact, a disagreement within Wales as to the right way to go. There are senior police officers who are saying precisely the opposite of what he is saying. Therefore, we must listen to the representations being made, but there are circumstances in which there are different representations being made and we obviously have to come to a decision. I know that he and some other Members of Parliament had a meeting with the Home Secretary earlier in the week, but we have put forward this option because there is strong support for it from within Wales.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that while we recognise and respect freedom of speech and expression, that does not extend to a right to insult, humiliate and hurt people, which is clearly what the irresponsible publication of the cartoons of the Prophet, peace be upon him, has done, causing deep offence to millions of Muslims around the world? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that people have the right to protest peacefully, but that those who advocate violence and condone barbaric acts such as 7/7 must be dealt with by the full severity of the law?

The Prime Minister: I think that what my hon. Friend says about the protests against the cartoons being conducted peacefully is absolutely right. I also think that it is particularly important that he, as a leader from the Muslim community, is making it very clear that the vast majority of Muslims in this country completely abhor the type of protests that took place that resulted in violence and in people glorifying acts of murder and terrorism. That has no place in any part of our community—certainly not in any respectable part of our community.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): As the Prime Minister has just said, the demonstrations in London over the weekend caused widespread concern. Muslims, as he has also just said, contribute an enormous amount to this country and, for the overwhelming majority, Islam is a religion of peace. Does he agree that, in all of this, there is a danger that their voice will be drowned out?

The Prime Minister: I hope very much that the voice of the moderate majority is not drowned out because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) made clear, the fact is that the vast majority of people in the Muslim community and across the Muslim world totally abhor acts of terrorism and those who incite or glorify terrorism. It is important that we make it clear that we use the full force of the law against people who break the law, but remain united as a country—across communities of all faiths—in resisting terrorism wherever it rears its head.

Mr. Cameron: On the specific point of policing that the Prime Minister just mentioned, we all agree that the existing laws on incitement must be enforced. Does he agree that while smart policing may mean holding back from arresting people on the spot, it must never mean turning a blind eye to those who incite violence, or perhaps even worse?
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The Prime Minister: No; I agree, of course, entirely. It is extremely important that the police use the powers available to them. One of the reasons for the legislation currently before the Houses of Parliament is precisely that it willl strengthen the law. It is important that we can agree on the measures that are necessary to do that because the law will be strengthened in very important ways. First, indirect encouragement to acts of terrorism will be made unlawful and glorification will be mentioned specifically as an example of indirect incitement to terrorism. Secondly, it was extremely important—I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would look again at the Conservative party's position on this—that the original provisions in the Bill allowed us to proscribe groups that glorified terrorism. Those provisions were removed from the legislation in the House of Lords. It is important that we send out a very strong signal that any group, or people, who glorify terrorism in any way at all will be committing a criminal offence and that those groups that rely on glorifying terrorism to attract recruits should not be able to operate in our society.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The Secretary of State for Defence recently told the House that the deployment of our troops in Afghanistan would be in Helmand province. In the light of recent events, will the Prime Minister tell us whether our troops will now have a roving commission, firefighting around the whole of Afghanistan?

The Prime Minister: No, of course they will not. However, in any situation, especially when other troops are under threat, as happened recently, I am sure that our troops would want to go to the help of their allies. The important thing is surely that we, together with the troops of many other countries, are in Afghanistan to help that country towards the democracy that its people want and to ensure that the Taliban or al-Qaeda cannot again use the country as a failed state for their own purposes. We can be not only immensely proud of the work that our troops do there, but immensely determined to ensure that they can carry on doing that work. I assure my hon. Friend that there is no intention that they should have a roving commission throughout Afghanistan, but if, as happened the other day, troops of another country working alongside us are under threat, of course our troops will want to go and help them.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): The Prime Minister will be aware that police mergers are controversial not just in Wales, but throughout the whole country. Will he tell us why the biggest change to policing in 40 years is being pushed through in a matter of a few months?

The Prime Minister: The reason for the proposals, as I explained during Prime Minister's questions some time ago, is that after we commissioned a report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary into the whole issue, it came forward with proposals showing why the present configuration of forces was wrong. There is sometimes a notion when talking about this that the number of forces that we have at the moment—just over 40—has somehow been the case for ever. Actually, 30 to
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40 years ago, a similar exercise was undertaken involving substantial mergers. The question is what is the most effective form of policing. Since we got the report saying that the present configuration is not effective, surely it is sensible for us to look at how we can make it better.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Apart from the issue of the loss of connection with local people, the Prime Minister will know that the Association of Police Authorities estimates the cost of the proposed mergers as something in excess of £500 million. What will that mean: higher council tax bills, or fewer police on the streets?

The Prime Minister: It will mean neither, actually, because we do not accept that figure. As I have said, there are different views, including within the police service, but what is important is to get the most effective way of configuring local police forces, and community policing is best done at a community level. It is entirely consistent with proper community policing to have a proper strategic force at the right strategic level, and then to have greater devolution of power to community policing. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman looks at the history of police services in this country, he will see that there have been many changes over the years. Once those changes take effect, it is interesting how quickly the opposition dissipates.

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): In my constituency, we recently had a tragic murder when Tom ap Rhys Price was killed close to Kensal Green station, which was unstaffed. Will my right hon. Friend condemn the rail companies for not investing more of their profit into ensuring that stations are properly staffed? Will he also congratulate the Mayor of London on committing an extra 89 British Transport police officers to staff stations?

The Prime Minister: It is important, as the Mayor indicated, not merely that we have more British Transport police, but that we increase the number of neighbourhood policing teams. My hon. Friend knows that those have been strengthened from four to six officers and rolled out across the whole of London. I shall certainly look carefully into the issue that she raises about that particular station.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister has said that every time he introduced a reform, he wished he had gone further. Why is it that on the biggest reform of this Parliament—education—he is going backwards?

The Prime Minister: I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman says that. A couple of weeks ago he asked me whether I would undertake categorically to ensure that schools had the freedom to own their buildings, employ their own staff and develop their own culture. They will have those powers, and they will be in the education Bill. I thought that he now agreed with me that we do not want to return to selection.

Mr. Cameron: I love it. One minute we have big concessions to win over Back Benchers; the next minute we have no changes at all. Instead of flip-flopping, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman get out and sell the reforms? [Interruption.]
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Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Cameron: Whatever happened to the right hon. Gentleman leading his party, not following it? Whatever happened to no reverse gear? Whatever happened to the historic turning point? If he keeps turning, it is not going to be very historic.

Given that the right hon. Gentleman has Opposition support, will he make it clear: no more concessions?

The Prime Minister: I see that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of flip-flopping. I have with me a leaflet that has just been put out in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election with a letter from one David Cameron. It says:

It also says:

like Iraq. Is that the same man who two weeks ago told The Daily Telegraph:

One week ago, he was the heir to new Labour; today he is a Liberal Conservative. No wonder he is against identity cards.

Hon. Members: More!

Mr. Cameron: I love it—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Cameron: I love getting a lecture in consistency from a Prime Minister who spent all week in reverse gear. Perhaps he could have a word with the Chancellor, who has just endorsed a book that says Iraq was an unjust war. Is it not time that the Prime Minister faced down the rebels and did the right thing for teachers, parents and pupils? Why is he trying to appease those who do not want reform when he could be working with those who want it?

The Prime Minister: I do not know about me facing anything down, but it is about time that the right hon. Gentleman faced the same way for more than a day at a time. The fact of the matter is that we will have those freedoms in schools but, yes, we will ensure that they cannot go back to academic selection. I thought that we both agreed on that. I hope that he will do that now, as well as reversing the following Conservative policies: the patient's passport; the foundation hospitals; the asylum quotas; section 28; the licensing laws—does he remember those?—and opposition to antisocial behaviour. I hope that in respect of all those, and more, he will reverse the Conservative position, but in particular tell us now how much he regrets voting against the extra investment for   schools and hospitals. Once he has completed those U-turns, we will know where he stands—but he will not stand with any credibility anywhere. [Interruption].

Mr. Speaker: Order.
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Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister shares the satisfaction that is felt by many on the Labour Benches about the shift to the left that has taken place in Latin America. To use a phrase, this is bringing Governments into power who will be in the interests of the many and not the few. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it would be bad news for all concerned if we allowed our policy towards those countries, especially Venezuela, to be shaped by a really right-wing US Republican agenda?

The Prime Minister: Up to a point. It is rather important that the Government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be respected members of the international community, they should abide by the rules of the international community. I say with the greatest respect to the President of Venezuela that when he forms an alliance with Cuba, I would prefer to see Cuba a proper functioning democracy. I entirely understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, and I will obviously reflect on it carefully, but I have to say to him that the most important thing is that countries in south America and north America realise that they have much in common, much to gain from each other and much to gain from each other particularly through the principles of democracy.

Q2. [49475] Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Has the Prime Minister seen the Government's own figures, which show that 90 per cent. of prisoners have some form of mental health illness, and that more than 5,000 prisoners have a severe mental illness? Does he believe that prison is the right place to keep, treat and rehabilitate people with a mental health illness?

The Prime Minister: I think that they have to be treated in the right way for them. They also have to be treated in a way that is conducive to public safety. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right in saying that many prisoners have severe mental health problems. Many prisoners have a series of problems to do with upbringing, drug abuse and so on. I hope he understands that there would be an immediate reaction the other way if we were releasing people from prison with severe mental health problems who could cause damage in the community.

The point that the hon. Gentleman is making is absolutely right and we are acting upon it, to increase the help and support that we give to prisoners with mental health problems.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend be interested to learn that councillors on Conservative-controlled Swindon borough council backed on-the-spot fines and antisocial behaviour orders recently? Does he agree that the measures in the respect action plan will improve the lives of hard-working Swindon families, and that it would be far better for the country if the Tories stopped saying one thing when in power and another in opposition?

The Prime Minister: That is absolutely right, of course. I have to say in all fairness to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) that although he was opposing the measures as a gimmick in the morning, by the evening he was supporting them.
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Q3. [49476] Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): We do need to build new affordable housing to keep communities together, but does the Prime Minister accept that we have to have the infrastructure to support that housing first? Is he aware that in Fleet, where the Deputy Prime Minister has just imposed an extra 300 new houses, the schools are full, the primary care trust is in deficit and water levels are dangerously low?

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely that it is important that we have the infrastructure spending that goes along with any increase in housing. That is precisely the reason for the large investment in our public services, both in health and education and elsewhere. Obviously I do not know the particular situation in Fleet but I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman about it.

Q4. [49477] Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Why is it that so many influential people outside the House think that knighthoods and peerages can be bought by sponsoring city academies? Is it because six sponsors have been honoured so far? What about independent trust schools that are seeking partners in the private sector? What is in it for Tesco, B & Q, Burger King and Virgin Mobile?

The Prime Minister: If my hon. Friend went and looked at the city academies, he would see that many schools that used to be hugely under-subscribed are now over-subscribed. He would see the children receiving a first-class education and the possibility and potential that they have as a result, so I hope that perhaps he would take a different view of city academies and their sponsors.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The London borough of Havering has just received a comprehensive performance assessment of one star, despite receiving four, three and two stars for a range of services. Does    the Prime Minister agree that giving a comprehensive performance assessment in accordance with the lowest score is not only unfair but does nothing to encourage local authorities to aspire to providing better services?

The Prime Minister: I plainly do not know the reasons for that, so I will get in touch with the hon. Lady to give them to her. Obviously, the rating is made across the whole range of services, but I cannot comment on the individual case.

Q5. [49478] Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that this month is the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the parliamentary Labour party. [Hon. Members: "Hurray."] The Labour pioneers who sat on these Benches dreamed of ending poverty and unemployment, clearing slum housing and providing decent health care and education for everyone, regardless of their income. One hundred years from now, what does my right hon. Friend believe our lasting achievements will be?
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The Prime Minister: I hope, at the moment, the increase in the number of people in work and, obviously, the huge investment in public services and the reduction in pensioner and child poverty. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the 100-year centenary, and I hope those original 29 founders would be very happy to have a third-term Labour Government in place today. There were three great things on which they campaigned 100 years ago—first, the minimum wage, which we have delivered; secondly, home rule, which we have delivered; and, thirdly, prohibition, which we have not.

Q6. [49479] Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Given the confirmation of continuing illegality, criminality, spying, racketeering and so on practised and sanctioned at the highest level by senior members of Sinn Fein-IRA, does the Prime Minister—I note that he is shaking his head, but it is in the report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, if he would read it instead of spinning it—not agree with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who said that if


That is especially the case when they do not come to the House and they do not do any work.

The Prime Minister: I do not agree that I am unbalanced about the report. It is absolutely correct to draw attention to criminal activity, and we have made it clear that that is a significant problem. However, the IMC report also says:

If one is being fair and balanced, both things have to be put into the equation. The report goes on specifically to recommend the lifting of the financial sanctions that were imposed on Sinn Fein in March 2005, after a previous IMC report. The present report says that it is right to lift them, which is why we are acting as we are.

Q7. [49480] Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/ Co-op): May I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in celebrating the election to the House of Mr. John T. Macpherson, the first Labour MP for Preston, who, along with 28 others, set out a radical agenda for change in the 20th century? If those 29 MPs could be here today to see this radical agenda, they would be proud.

The Prime Minister: I am sure that they would. My hon. Friend's predecessor had to wait rather a long time to see, from another place, a third-term Labour Government, but now that we have one, let us make him really proud and have a fourth-term one.

Q8. [49481] Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Is the Prime Minister aware that the primary care trust proposes to close the mental health wards at
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Westmorland general hospital in Kendal in my constituency? Given that his Government have indeed put additional funding into the national health service, will he explain to my constituents why they are facing cuts in mental services in our area, and will he act swiftly to prevent those cuts from taking place?

The Prime Minister: Again, I would have to know the reasons for the proposals. It is a matter for those in charge of the local health care system. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the fact that there has been a massive increase in spending. How that money is spent, however, must be a local decision. Again, in respect of the particular situation regarding mental health services in his constituency, I will have to write to him, but I am sure there are reasons why the proposals are being put forward.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): What does my right hon. Friend say to hon. Members who are happy to accept the protection of an ID card here in the Palace of Westminster, but are prepared to deny that protection to people outside?

The Prime Minister: I hope that the Opposition and others will think again about the identity card. It is extremely important. As I have constantly said, we have the biometric technology. In any event, because of changes happening not just in this country but around the world, we have moved to biometric visas and biometric passports. With the new technology, therefore, and with the huge level of identity abuse in both the private and the public sector, it makes perfect sense to move towards identity cards. I have no doubt that in the end that is where the United Kingdom will go.

Q9. [49482] Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): The Prime Minister opened his responses today, as he does each week, with the words,

Will he list his duties in the House and say whether, by any chance, they include voting?

The Prime Minister: Periodically is the answer to that. Since I know that accountability to Parliament is a hot Conservative topic now, I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have caught up with the fact that I am the first Prime Minister to appear in front of the Liaison Committee, and that if anyone looks at the number of statements I have made and the number of hours I have spent answering Prime Minister's questions, that compares extremely well with all my predecessors.

Q10. [49483] Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): Is it time for the more hysterical critics of the Licensing Act 2003 to eat humble pie?

The Prime Minister: Perhaps I should touch wood at this point. It is important to emphasise that the Act was not just about greater flexibility in licensing. Additional powers were given to the police and local communities
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to make sure that those who abuse the licensing system are more severely dealt with—fixed penalty notices, for example, for people who are drunk and disorderly, and the power that the police now have to close pubs or clubs where there are regular disturbances or fighting. Flexible licensing, balanced by those additional powers, was and has been shown to be the right thing to do.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have said that they will not make ID cards a condition of delivering public services. If the Prime Minister pushes forward with his ID card scheme, is he not in danger of creating a two-tier Britain, where some citizens of these isles will not be required to carry an ID card and some citizens of England will?

The Prime Minister: Precisely because we think it sensible for access to public services, we want the provisions to remain. The ability to check people's identity properly is of benefit to the user, never mind to the Government or state. I say to the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members that most people carry forms of identity in our society today. It is not a great deal to ask people to do, when the benefits of it are so very clear.

Q11. [49484] Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): In his speech in Oxford last week, the Prime Minister pledged to continue the economic reform agenda in Europe. Given that Italy, France and Spain have achieved only three of the quantifiable benchmarks set at Lisbon, which is half of what we have achieved in the United Kingdom, what further steps does he propose to take to encourage our European Union colleagues to ensure that the vision set out at Lisbon to create the most dynamic economy in the world will be realised?

The Prime Minister: The most important thing will arise in connection with the summit in March, which will be devoted particularly to the Lisbon agenda and to economic liberalisation, but there are two important issues before the European Parliament. One is to do with the services directive, and I hope we can get early progress on that—within the next few weeks, indeed. The second is in respect of the working time directive, as there is an increasing desire to make sure that we have sufficient flexibility in European labour markets. There will be changes as a result of Lisbon, but my hon. Friend is right—there is a great deal more that we have to do.
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