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Sesame Street Ltd

4. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with Sesame Street Ltd on programmes to improve understanding between young people of different traditions in Northern Ireland. [79738]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met representatives of Sesame Street Ltd to hear of their plans to develop a series of programmes in Northern Ireland to challenge sectarianism and racism, and he will shortly be raising the issue with the director-general of the BBC.

Mr. Allen: Does the Under-Secretary appreciate the work of the international parts of the charity Sesame Street with youngsters in Israel and Palestine? It has got youngsters from both sides of a strong religious divide to work together and understand each other. Will my hon. Friend continue his efforts to ensure that people from both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland get together? The strongest weapon of those who promote religious bigotry is ignorance. If we can get more knowledge and understanding between the communities through using the charity, it will reduce violence across the community divide.

David Cairns: My hon. Friend is right. Sesame Street is a highly respected international broadcaster with a global brand and a global outreach. It has done tremendously good work in the middle east, South Africa and elsewhere, and everyone would welcome its engagement in Northern Ireland as part of building the shared future that we all want.

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Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): I welcome the fact that Sesame Street Ltd will operate in Northern Ireland, but will the Minister also address the issue of other scourges of our young people apart from sectarianism, such as drug and alcohol abuse, diet and sexually transmitted illnesses?

David Cairns: I very much agree with everything the hon. Lady has said—and that is very much part of what Sesame Street has done. Another issue that could be added to the list is the upsurge in hate crime and racist violence in Northern Ireland recently. I know that she shares with me an absolute abhorrence of such crimes, and if Sesame Street can play a part in tackling any resurgence of racism and hate crime, it will also be welcome.

Ministerial Office

5. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will make it a requirement of holding ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Executive that a person must take an oath to uphold the rule of law. [79739]

7. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What his policy is on the appointment to ministerial office of people who do not support the police. [79741]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): All the parties should support the rule of law and policing arrangements in Northern Ireland, especially those holding ministerial office in a restored Northern Ireland Executive, who should also abide by the terms of the pledge of office, which commits them to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

Mr. Bone: Many people believe that former terrorists should not be Ministers. However, if they are to serve in the Northern Ireland Executive, the very least they could do is to take an oath to uphold the rule of law so that their despicable pasts can be just that—their past. Would the Secretary of State agree?

Mr. Hain: I agree absolutely, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the pledge of office, which commits all serving members to commit themselves to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, is effectively a commitment to the rule of law. It was agreed by all the parties and is in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as a result of the Good Friday agreement. I am at one with him in insisting that all elected politicians, especially Ministers, comply with the rule of law and support the police.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Could we have an unequivocal answer from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does he believe that all people who hold public appointments in Northern Ireland not only should support the policing arrangements but must support them, because the police uphold the rule of law? Will he say that they must support policing arrangements, and go rather further than he has to date?

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Mr. Hain: Of course I think that the police must be, and should be, supported by all holding ministerial office. I want to be clear, however, that there has been a sea change on the part of republicans, Sinn Fein and the IRA in the past year or so, as a result of all the painstaking work done by our Governments and our predecessor Governments, and we should welcome that. I do not want to see another obstacle erected late in the day to stop the restoration of devolved government. If we disagree about that, that will have to be that.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Secretary of State is correct to warn us of the dangers of turning objectives, no matter how good, into preconditions, but does he recognise that we are caught in a vicious circle of vetoes on policing? Sinn Fein says that it will not sign on for policing until the Democratic Unionist party agrees a date for the devolution of justice and policing, and the DUP says that it will not agree a date until Sinn Fein commits to supporting policing. Does the Secretary of State share my suspicion that those two parties are trading vetoes so that they can blame each other for failure?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point in his own way. It is essential that all the parties, including the two that he mentioned, work together to get the restoration of devolved government and to make progress on policing. Both of those objectives are crucial to the future stability and success of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Will the Secretary of State try to understand the concern of my right hon. and hon. Friends that the message coming from the Northern Ireland Office is that —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please allow the hon. Gentleman to speak.

Mr. Robinson: The message is that Sinn Fein is already a partner fit for Government, but there are still issues outstanding in terms of criminality and the acceptance of the rule of law. Instead of sending out his officials to leak to the BBC about the finances and position of DUP Members should the Assembly close, will he go out and tell Sinn Fein that there is work for it to do? May I also assure him that whatever issues my party considers in the run-up to 24 November, party finances will not be one of them?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman will know that I have made what I expect to happen clear to Sinn Fein. He and his party have been considerably responsible for putting pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA to make sure that they continue to change in the way that they have done in the past year. He and the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) deserve credit for that.

On the question of finance, we have made it clear that party funding for Assembly groups will have to stop if politicians do not do their jobs in the Assembly. Moreover, advice centres will have to close down and salaries will stop being paid. That is what the people of Northern Ireland have demanded, and that is what will happen at midnight on 24 November if there is no agreement.

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Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked


Q1. [80667] Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 28 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences and sympathy to the families of the two British soldiers killed in Afghanistan yesterday. They were fighting the Taliban, and they were brave and committed soldiers. This country can be very proud of the work that they were doing.

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.

Lembit Öpik: I am sure that the whole House will associate itself with those sentiments.

I thank the Prime Minister for endorsing efforts to find a cure for motor neurone disease, which kills one UK resident every eight hours. His support is welcome and hugely valued, but is he aware that, in the past five years, for every £337,000 that the Government spent in research per diagnosed case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, they invested a mere £108 in research per diagnosed case of MND? Will he therefore ask Health Ministers to meet the Motor Neurone Disease Association and give equal priority to curing that disease? Will he also back our efforts to raise £15 million for a research fund to rid the world of this terrible disease?

The Prime Minister: First, I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has done on behalf of the MNDA, and I thank him for arranging my recent meeting with him and the association. We fully support the efforts to raise the money required, and I shall pass his remarks on to the relevant Ministers. Much of the funding comes through the Medical Research Council, but he is right that there is a clear gap between the amount of money spent on research into CJD and what is spent on MND. We shall therefore look to see what more we can do.

Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, 30 years on from the introduction of the Equal Pay Act by a Labour Government, the winner of the Wimbledon women’s singles competition will receive £30,000 less in prize money than the winner of the men’s singles? Wimbledon is the only grand slam competition in which that happens. Will he support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in her efforts to persuade the Lawn Tennis Association to put that inequality right?

The Prime Minister: I was somewhat coy about that yesterday, as I did not realise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport had pronounced on the matter already. Therefore, I am happy to be bolder today, to welcome what she said, and to endorse it fully.

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Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I echo what the Prime Minister said about the two young soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan? Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

When asked about the need to replace Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, the Prime Minister said at that Dispatch Box last week that he wanted the fullest possible debate, and that a decision would be taken later in this Parliament. That afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer went around saying that he had made a decision and that it would be announced later this year. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the Chancellor was up to?

The Prime Minister: It was made clear in the Labour manifesto that we are committed to maintaining the independent nuclear deterrent, and I have also said that we think that it is right to do so. A decision will be taken in this Parliament, and that will happen later this year. It is important that Britain makes sure that it can defend itself properly. I believe that an independent nuclear deterrent is an essential part of that.

Mr. Cameron: In his speech, the Chancellor repeated what was in Labour’s manifesto, but he went around briefing something completely different. The BBC’s political editor said that he wished the Chancellor

One of the things that the Chancellor said was that there should be a vote. So will the Prime Minister tell us, in plain English, will the House of Commons have a vote on whether Trident is replaced?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House dealt with that during business questions last week. He said, rightly, that we will of course consult the House fully. The method of doing so will be announced at the time when we publish the White Paper. I can assure the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) that there will of course be the fullest possible debate, as there would have to be.

I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to debate today the policy he announced yesterday on the Bill of Rights. Since we are having a debate, at long last, on policy, I thought he might want to debate one of his.

Mr. Cameron: It is a simple enough question: the Chancellor wants a vote and the Education Secretary has said there ought to be vote; can we have a vote in the House?

The Prime Minister: I have already explained that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made the position clear last Thursday. That is the position, and we will announce the means of consultation when we publish the White Paper. Of course, we believe it is extremely important to have the fullest possible debate on the subject.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is saying one thing and the Chancellor briefing another. Is not this part of a wider problem? Is not there a danger that the Prime Minister is becoming the David Brent of Downing street—utterly redundant, he is just hanging round the office?

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The Prime Minister: What we are doing is setting out policies for the long-term future of the country, on, for example, a stable economy, on the new deal to help cut unemployment further, on child care and on pensions. The energy review will be published shortly, and there is the NHS reform programme. All those are substantial policies for the future of the country.

What happens to the right hon. Gentleman when he makes a policy decision? He has one on foreign policy—to withdraw from the European People’s party. He finally announced a domestic policy—his own Bill of Rights—which was denounced by the chairman of his own democracy commission as xenophobic legal nonsense. I am surprised, when he has just announced a major change to the British constitution, that he does not want to get up and debate it. Come on.

Direction is about policy. [Interruption.] I am happy to debate our policies, I am happy to debate the right hon. Gentleman’s policies, and I am happy to have a policy debate. He has two questions left; let us debate policy.

Hon. Members: More!

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): Everyone accepts the need to deal with surplus school places in a rational manner. What has the Prime Minister to say, however, about Conservative-controlled Kent county council and its crude action to close or merge nine schools in Dover, nearly a quarter of the primary schools in my constituency? Does he think that represents lack of planning, lack of imagination or just lack of care?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it does not involve lack of money, because we have put vast sums into education in Kent and elsewhere in the country, all of which, of course, the Conservative party voted against. He is also absolutely right to say that primary schools have made enormous progress in the past few years, and I should deeply regret anything that put that at risk.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of condolence and sympathy that we have just heard from the Prime Minister.

Given the urgency of the hostage crisis and the significance of the role of the United States in the middle east, has the Prime Minister discussed the present situation with the President of the United States?

The Prime Minister: We discuss issues to do with the middle east, Israel and Palestine every time I speak to the President. I have not spoken to him in the past 24 hours or so, but those things are a major part of any conversation we have. We both believe it extremely important to make sure that we restart a peace process that is the only way to stop events such as the terrible events of the past 24 hours. In the end, what is necessary, obviously, will be to make sure that peace and calm are restored so that there is some possibility of getting negotiation going.

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Sir Menzies Campbell: I think the Prime Minister will agree that this is a particularly crucial moment, so what joint actions will he and the President take to capitalise on the apparent willingness of Hamas to accept a negotiated settlement and a two-state solution? It would be a tragedy if that possibility of progress were derailed by the hostage crisis.

The Prime Minister: I think I understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. If Hamas is prepared to commit itself to a two-state solution and to negotiate a settlement, that necessarily must mean that it is committed to the existence of Israel, to the renunciation of violence, and to negotiation as a way of achieving that settlement. If Hamas were clear on those issues and if it was prepared to return to the road map, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends used to ask me to endorse and carry forward—as I still want to do—I can assure him, not just on my own behalf but on behalf of the President as well, that America—the Quartet—would be willing to take the process forward as swiftly as possible. But if we are negotiating a two-state solution, we need to know that both sides to the negotiation are committed to the existence of the other state.

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the decision of the Conservative councillors in Hounslow to share power with a group led by Phil Andrews, a former parliamentary candidate for the National Front? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that decision is not consistent with statements from leaders of all parties condemning all racist organisations?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that all party leaders most sincerely condemn racism of any sort. I do not know about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but it would of course be deeply regrettable if anyone was in alliance with people who do not conform to the principles to which I hope we all conform.

Q2. [80668] Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): In light of the Prime Minister’s avowed priority for victims of crime, will he ensure that therapeutic services are available for all children who experience sexual abuse and indeed for children who exhibit sexually harmful behaviour who may have been abused themselves? That would be in line with the recommendations of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on the issue.

The Prime Minister: I would like an update, to send to the hon. Lady, about exactly what we are doing in the area of therapeutic treatment for the victims of sexual abuse. I can tell her that we have significantly increased funding for Victim Support and for the whole range of NHS therapeutic services, but I would like to acquaint myself with the actual details of what we are doing in that area and send them to her.

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