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4. Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): if he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Nepal. [77022]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): There is no general food-related humanitarian crisis in Nepal, but the World Food Programme has recently launched an emergency programme in 10 of the country’s 75 districts after poor winter rains led to local food shortages. The conflict has, however, created a human rights crisis, with abuses being committed by both security forces and the Maoists, and it has forced thousands of people to leave their homes. The recent ceasefire should lead to an improvement.

Mr. Crausby: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The new civilian Government in Nepal certainly provide cause for optimism. What progress has been made in negotiating an end to the civil war? And what support is my hon. Friend providing in order to bring about stability, development and, most importantly, peace?

Hilary Benn: As my hon. Friend knows, there has been considerable progress following the handing back of political power to the parties in April. A ceasefire has been agreed between the Government and the Maoists. Negotiation teams have been appointed and a number of confidence-building measures have been implemented, including the release of prisoners, the lifting of curfews and greater ease of movement around the country. Now we need effective monitoring of the ceasefire and agreement on the timing and conditions for the Maoists to join the Government and on the arrangements for a constituent assembly. The UK is currently looking at how we can provide technical assistance, support for the elections to a constituent assembly and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): One of the groups most affected by the recent tragedies in Nepal are the street children of Kathmandu. In commending the good work of two charities, the Child Welfare Scheme and Asha Nepal, may I ask what plans the Minister has to target aid at that needy group in Kathmandu?

Hilary Benn: I, too, praise those organisations. On Asha Nepal in particular, I have asked officials to re-examine the question of funding. In light of the changed circumstances in Nepal, we are reviewing what more we might do. We had to cut back the programme, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, Nepal was a difficult place in which to work. If the progress is maintained, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development and I will consider what more we can do to tackle poverty in Nepal.

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Disaster Relief

6. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): what progress has been made in establishing a world fund to provide rapid aid and relief at times of major disaster. [77024]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The Central Emergency Response Fund was launched on 9 March 2006. It is now helping UN humanitarian agencies to respond immediately to sudden disasters and to increase activity in underfunded emergencies. So far, CERF has committed $92 million to a number of humanitarian crises, the largest being the Horn of Africa, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In total, 43 donors have contributed $262 million, and the UK has been the largest contributor.

Mr. Hoyle: I welcome the Government’s commitment to the implementation of a world fund, which can be used wherever disasters take place. What long-term funding have the Government provided? And how can we ensure that other partners which are as wealthy as, if not more wealthy than, this country are making long-term contributions?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is right. Having established the fund, we will need it every year, because disasters strike every year. At a Red Cross event last week, I announced that over the next three years Britain will contribute £40 million, £40 million and £40 million—£120 million over three years. I intend to talk to our partner countries and say, “Britain is prepared to make a long-term commitment to the fund. Are you?”

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Although I agree with the Secretary of State that the fund is welcome and important, we need more effective co-ordination. Does he acknowledge the concern that the more co-ordination there is at international level, the harder it is for smaller, locally based NGOs and charities in countries affected to access funds? Will he use his good offices to ensure that such bodies are included in what is a worldwide response?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. In truth, about 60 per cent. of the funding that comes through the UN system for humanitarian relief ends up in the hands of NGOs, which do the work on the ground. Jan Egeland is conscious that he should be able to take quick decisions on spending money from CERF. I praise him and his team for their work, because such money gets down to NGOs, which deliver increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance when crises strike. I hope that we have got the right mechanisms in place to ensure that there is proper debate and dialogue between the NGO community and the UN system, because we are all in it together in trying to provide assistance when crises strike.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Can the Secretary of State assure the House that at a time of crisis the aid that is provided, including the United Kingdom aid, goes to those who are most in need?

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Hilary Benn: I can indeed offer the hon. Gentleman that assurance. That is precisely why we give the assistance. Most recently, when the earthquake struck in Indonesia on the island of Java, Britain contributed £5 million—£3 million to UN, £1 million to the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and £1 million to NGOs that are delivering help on the ground. In those circumstances, the world demonstrated its capacity to respond quickly to give very practical help—shelter, blankets, bedding, medical supplies, water, sanitation and food—because that is what people need when they have lost everything.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Bichard Inquiry

Q1. [77004] Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): If he will reconvene the Bichard inquiry team to consider how its recommendations may be implemented more quickly.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Twenty-one out of the 31 Bichard recommendations have now been implemented. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which will put into place the new vetting and barring scheme, has completed its passage through the House of Lords and will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 19 June. We are reporting progress regularly to Parliament, most recently on 25 May, and we see no need at present to reconvene the inquiry team.

Mr. Illsley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. As he knows, it is now two years since Sir Michael Bichard made his central recommendation for the police national information technology system. That system will not be available, if at all, until after 2010, and some of the latest cost estimates are up around the £2 billion mark. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider recalling Sir Michael Bichard, first, to allow him to judge progress against his recommendations, and secondly, to ensure that his recommendations do not go the same way as those that came from Dunblane?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand why my hon. Friend raises this. It is very important to say that although the full impact recommendations will not come in until later, the data-sharing arrangements, including the sharing of intelligence, will come in next year. We will certainly look at how we can speed up the recommendations. However, as my hon. Friend rightly says, this is going to be difficult and complicated. It requires a lot of changes, not only in police practice but elsewhere, and we have to ensure that we get the delivery of this programme right. I ask him to bear in mind that, as I say, from the end of next year we should have the main data-sharing arrangements in place. If we can possibly speed that up—if necessary, we are perfectly happy to reconvene the inquiry team if that helps, but at the moment we do not think that it would—then we will of course do so.
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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Prime Minister has no doubt heard, as we all have, reference to Departments being not fit for purpose, most notably the recent reference to the Home Office. Could he tell the House—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be experienced enough to know that this is a closed question. I call Joan Walley.


Q2. [77005] Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 June.

The Prime Minister: Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in mourning the death of Captain Jim Philippson, who was killed in action in Afghanistan at the weekend. I know that we all extend our deep sympathy and condolences to his family and friends.

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.

Joan Walley: May I, too, express my sympathies to the families concerned?

Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing the England team every continuing success? While football is centre-stage, will he also join me in welcoming the report of the independent European sport review, which was initiated under our presidency and under the leadership of our Sports Minister, Captain Caborn? Will the Prime Minister set out what action he can take on the report, which is designed to protect football and—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister can answer one supplementary.

The Prime Minister: First, I am sure that we all wish the England team the best of luck in the match tomorrow. Secondly, as I said in answer to a question a few weeks ago, some recommendations in the independent European report are difficult—for example, trying to set a cap on players’ wages. However, some of the other aspects, especially those that try to bring greater integrity to the way in which some of the financial transactions are conducted, are worth while and we will study the report carefully.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Jim Philippson and sending our condolences to his family. Our troops are doing difficult work in Afghanistan, and they have our support.

In the past 40 days, the new Home Secretary has been hard at work. He potentially undermined his Department’s deportation proceedings, he shelved his anti-crime campaign at the last minute, he misled the public about the employment of illegal immigrants in his Department and now he has criticised judges for their implementation of new Labour law. Can the Prime Minister detect any early signs that this Home Secretary will be any better than the last?

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The Prime Minister: Since the right hon. Gentleman and his shadow Home Secretary have been complaining about life sentences and prisoners being released early after being sentenced to life, I want to explain to the House how that has come about. Of the 53 prisoners, the vast bulk were given automatic life sentences under the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997—before we came to office. The automatic life sentences were given for second offences. We changed the law in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to allow indeterminate sentences to be given. Since April 2005, when the Act came into effect, there have been 1,000 of those sentences. Six of those people have been considered for parole and no parole has been given.

However, that is not the point that I wanted to make. I wanted to make the point that, when the Criminal Justice Act came before the House, the Conservative party voted against it.

Mr. Cameron: Let us go straight to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and consider the Home Secretary’s attack on the judge who gave the paedophile a sentence that could turn out to be as little as six years. Is not it the case that the 18-year sentence was reduced by a third because of the Sentencing Guidelines Council that the Prime Minister introduced? Is not it also the case that the individual could be let out halfway through his sentence—only six years—under the 2003 Act that the Prime Minister introduced and we voted against?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is talking absolute rubbish. The Sentencing Guidelines Council was supported across the House. The individual whom he mentions and others do not now need to be released because of the powers in the Act. Before the 2003 Act—he can check this with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)—someone who was sentenced to more than four years’ imprisonment was automatically paroled at the two thirds point, irrespective of what happened. Under the Act, that right to automatic parole was taken away. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues voted against that as well.

If we are going to talk about facts—and I am happy to talk about antisocial behaviour, about which he attacked us and which he again dismissed as a gimmick, even though the powers are doing good in communities throughout the country, or assets recovery, which his lot tried to water down—the truth is that he and his hon. Friends talk tough in the media and vote soft in Parliament.

Mr. Cameron: The point about the 2003 Act is that it means that criminals are released halfway through their sentence. I know a thing or two about the 2003 Act— [ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Norris, I know that you are enjoying yourself, but I must ask you not to shout at the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cameron: I know a thing or two about the 2003 Act because I sat on the Bill Committee. Let me tell the House something that I said at the time:

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That is why we opposed it.

Can the Prime Minister confirm something else? The only reason why this case— [ Interruption.] They are shouting because they do not like it. They know that they are on the wrong side. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the only reason why this case can be sent back to the Court of Appeal for a tougher sentence to be considered is the Criminal Justice Act that we passed and which he voted against?

The Prime Minister: Again, all that we have done is to toughen the ability of the Attorney-General— [ Interruption.] Yes, we have, as a matter of fact. I want to go back to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He is completely wrong. Under the 2003 Act, if someone is sentenced to more than four years in prison—in other words, if it is a serious offence—they can no longer be paroled at the two-thirds point. Since April 2005, 1,000 indeterminate sentences have been handed down and no one has been paroled because of that Act. The right hon. Gentleman says that he and his colleagues support tough measures, but I have before me a press release put out just the other day by the shadow Leader of the House. We remember debating the 90 days or the 28 days for the detention of suspected terrorists. We were forced, because of the right hon. Gentleman’s votes, to have the 28 days. The shadow Leader of the House then attacked us for not introducing this measure quickly enough. The reason we are unable to introduce it quickly is that the Conservatives insisted on a longer consultation period, which prevented us from doing that. So at every stage, whether it involves antisocial behaviour, assets recovery, the Criminal Justice Act or terrorist legislation, the right hon. Gentleman talks tough but he votes soft.

Mr. Cameron: Why does not the Prime Minister understand that the reason why criminals are not let out two thirds of the way through their sentence now is that, under his legislation, they are let out halfway through their sentence? In the past 40 days, the Home Secretary has blamed the judges, blamed the civil servants and tried to blame the public. Will the Prime Minister tell him to stop trying to blame everyone else and to get on with his job?

The Prime Minister: I notice that the right hon. Gentleman repeats the point that he is getting wrong. Since April 2005, 1,000 indeterminate sentences have been given, six have been considered for parole, and no one has been paroled. Those are the facts. As for the rest of the Tory attack, the fact is that, on all these pieces of legislation, they have either voted against them, dismissed them as gimmicks or refused to support them and tried to dilute them. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be bringing forward further measures, and we will then have the chance to see whether the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are prepared to back up their tough talk by changing the habits of opposition and actually voting for the legislation that does the job.

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