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25 Oct 2006 : Column 1506

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need to ensure that the international community is well placed to respond to the needs of every disaster and emergency situation. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has led a campaign over the past 15 months to ensure that there is an international humanitarian fund that is well resourced so that the Secretary-General can deploy the money when he needs to. So far, $270 million is in the fund and there will be a replenishment conference in December when we hope to get closer to the ultimate target of $500 million.

Kitty Ussher: Will the Minister join me in congratulating British Kashmiris in my constituency who, following the earthquake, operated under the banner of “Burnley for Kashmir” and raised enough cash to build 10 permanent shelters around Khoria Channa and a van to help the relief effort in Muzaffarabad? What estimates has his Department made of the total value of private donations to help earthquake victims in Kashmir?

Mr. Thomas: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents for their fund-raising efforts to help the victims of the earthquake. I know that constituents in other areas, including some from my own constituency, have also put considerable effort into fundraising. I also pay tribute to those constituents’ continuing advocacy for the victims of the earthquake—doing more for them and not walking away. We need to recognise that the reconstruction effort will take a long time—not just the 12 months to date, but perhaps as long as three to five years. We are determined to stay the course and we are continuing to monitor plans for the winter period to ensure that people—those still living in tents as well as those in transitional shelters—have the support that they need.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Oxfam has estimated that about 80 per cent. of the surviving families are still living in temporary shelters. Can the Minister tell us what action is being taken by the Department to improve that situation?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the work of Oxfam in highlighting the need to accelerate the reconstruction effort. As I indicated in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin), a proper plan, initiated by the Government of Pakistan, is in place and is being co-ordinated with UN organisations and non-governmental organisations to make sure that the 30,000 to 35,000 people still living in tents over the winter period have the support they need. Some of the money that we released as recently as two weeks ago will help to accelerate the reconstruction effort. We need to do more, and quickly, to get more permanent houses built, to accelerate the road reconstruction process and to get more schools and hospitals built. Our money will help to do just that.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Following the earthquake in which 73,000 people died, many millions of pounds were raised by Pakistani communities throughout the country. What information can DFID make available to those communities to maximise the impact of their funds and to co-ordinate their efforts?

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Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the contribution of Pakistani communities, and I am sure that he will acknowledge that many others also contributed to fund-raising efforts. In the wake of the tsunami, the Department published a booklet setting out how people who want to contribute following a disaster or some other humanitarian emergency can best do so. I am happy to make copies of the publication available to the hon. Gentleman if his constituents want access to that information.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for all the investment that has gone to the earthquake relief fund. A considerable amount has been done by the UK Government, but will my hon. Friend join me in putting further pressure on the Government and the organising committees in Kashmir—especially ERRA, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, and SERRA, the State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority—to make sure that people exposed to the forthcoming harsh winter are looked after quickly? They need protection now, while the overall construction is taking place.

Mr. Thomas: I assure my hon. Friend that we will do just that. We are working extremely closely with the earthquake reconstruction authority and are closely monitoring the winter plan, which is in place, as I indicated, and is being co-ordinated with the United Nations and non-governmental organisations. We will seek to make sure that our staff based in Islamabad following the earthquake continue to monitor the winter plan extremely carefully. Some of the money that we have released will help to make sure that the winter plans that are in place are delivered to the vulnerable people who are still living in tents and to others, too.


5. Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [96574]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): We are all concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur. As I saw during my visit to Sudan last week, the UN and non-governmental organisations are doing an excellent job, but they are stretched by the sheer scale of needs, and some people cannot be reached because of the banditry and insecurity. That is why I urged President Bashir to stop the fighting, implement the Darfur peace agreement and accept a UN peacekeeping force.

Mr. Caton: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. It is clear, as he indicated, that vital humanitarian aid is not reaching—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Mr. Caton: Because of the security situation, vital humanitarian aid is not reaching the victims of genocidal attacks by the janjaweed and by Sudanese Government forces. As an interim step, before the UN peacekeeping force stage that the Secretary of State mentioned, can the British Government strengthen the African Union mission in that country?

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Hilary Benn: That is precisely what we have been doing. We were the first country to provide financial support to the African Union mission. We have given £52 million—spent and pledged—and provided vehicles and support for their fuel contract, but I agree that there is a substantial need to ensure that the mission is further strengthened as we continue to put the case for a UN mission.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Is not it clear that the Sudanese Government will not accept a UN force in Darfur and that the best approach would be to beef up significantly the African Union force, which for all its difficulties is there on the ground? What further steps is the Secretary of State taking with his international colleagues to ensure that the deployment of and the funding for the additional 4,000 AU troops already agreed at the recent AU peace and security council meeting takes place as quickly as possible?

Hilary Benn: The first thing is to make sure that we pay the money that we have promised, and I urge others in the international community who made pledges to do the same. The indication at the moment, is that there is enough funding for the AU mission to see it through to the end of the year, but the hon. Gentleman is right that the priority is to ensure that the African Union mission in Sudan is able to do its job more effectively, while we continue to make the case for the ultimate solution, which is a UN mission.

Mr. Mitchell: As this humanitarian emergency has spread across international borders, with 2 million people having been made homeless and receiving inadequate protection, should we not press the case for the no-fly zone that was set up by the UN in 2004, but which has not, so far, been implemented? As for those involved in perpetrating the genocide, 49 of whom have been indicted to face charges in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if they step outside Sudan, should they not face charges of crimes against humanity?

Hilary Benn: I agree completely that those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes should be brought to account, and that is why the British Government fought very hard to ensure that what happened in Darfur was referred to the International Criminal Court. On the second point, we will have to consider all the options, and what we do will depend on the security situation. I should tell the House and the hon. Gentleman that the single most significant step that could be taken to bring the conflict to an end would be for those who did not sign the Darfur peace agreement in Abuja in May to meet around the negotiating table—the Government of Sudan should be there, as well as Minni Mannawi, who did sign—because, as we have seen in the past two weeks, an agreement signed with the eastern front will, I hope, bring the conflict in that part of Sudan to an end. The same must happen in Darfur, if all the people in those camps are to be able to go home.

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Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [96555] Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 25 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Marine Gary Wright of the Royal Marines, who was killed in Afghanistan last Thursday. He was a fine soldier who was doing an extraordinary job, and this country should be very proud of him.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, in addition to my duties in the House. I will have further such meeting later today.

Mr. Crabb: Yesterday marked the passing of 11 years since the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, was incarcerated, and during that time the widespread use of torture, rape and execution by the regime has continued. I congratulate the Government on the tangible efforts that they have made on Burma, particularly at the UN, but will the Prime Minister today make a commitment to close the loophole that allows companies to use British dependent territories to invest in Burma and help to prop up that wicked, evil regime?

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has done in campaigning on the issue. He is right in saying that the British Government continue to raise the subject in the United Nations and in all the international forums that we possibly can. As for the particular point that he raises, I am perfectly happy to have a look at the issue, and to correspond with him. There may be many different ramifications of taking any such action, and we have to be careful about what consequences there are for British companies, but in general terms, it has been the Government’s policy to try to make sure that we isolate, as much as possible, the Burmese regime, and we support fully those campaigning for human rights and democracy in that country.

Q2. [96556] Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): In the past year alone, nearly 8,000 families in North-East Derbyshire have had their incomes boosted by the working families tax credit. Can the Prime Minister assure me that any future tax policy under the Government will safeguard that much-needed extra cash for families in my constituency?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend of that. It is extremely important to make sure that we continue with policies that have helped millions of families throughout the country to get off benefits and into work, because that is important. Certainly, as far as Labour Members are concerned, we will not make uncosted and uncostable commitments to making billions of pounds-worth of tax cuts that could only be afforded by depriving some of the poorest in our society of the help that they are currently getting.

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Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier killed in Afghanistan? Our thoughts should be with Gary Wright’s family.

Three years ago, the Government said that the youth justice system had been totally transformed. Yesterday, the chief inspector of prisons said that the system was approaching breaking point. Who is right?

The Prime Minister: Over the past few years, according to the National Audit Office— [Interruption.] I am trying to answer. According to the National Audit Office, in 1997 the system was a shambles; in 2004 it had made substantial improvement. The fact is, we have managed to reduce dramatically the time that it takes to get young offenders fast-tracked through the justice system. We have expanded the amount of secure accommodation. We are making sure now that those who breach antisocial behaviour orders are given a custodial sentence, although it is true that that is causing pressures in the system. We believe that that policy is right. That is why we shall continue investing in our youth justice system and continue to make improvements.

Mr. Cameron: I think that the Prime Minister lives on another planet. After nine years there are no custodial places left for young people, secure units are completely overcrowded, and the Youth Justice Board warns of meltdown. Any halfway-competent Government would have seen this coming.

Now let us look at adult prisons. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we have run out of prison places; that last year the Government scrapped prison ships and now they are bringing them back; and that police officers are being taken off the streets to become jailers? Who is responsible for this complete failure of planning?

The Prime Minister: Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the youth justice system, the best way of testing it is the National Audit Office reports that are consistently produced on it. I just point out to him again that the latest National Audit Office report says that the system has been substantially transformed since this Government came to power.

As for places in adult prisons, we have expanded those dramatically. We have of course toughened up the sentences, but, of course, the right hon. Gentleman voted against the measures to toughen up sentences. And it is true that we are going to have to expand the number of prison places even more, which is why we are about to invest in another 8,000 prison places. Of course, he is unable to commit to that because of his tax cut policy.

Mr. Cameron: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about cuts, why do we not talk about the 21,000 jobs he is cutting in the NHS? I am happy to come here and talk about his NHS cuts any day of the week.

Now, Prime Minister, back to prison—actually, that has a certain ring to it. In May, the Prime Minister did something unprecedented: he put the Chancellor in charge of protecting the public. I quote: the Chancellor will co-ordinate Government policy to

What on earth has the Chancellor been doing?

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The Prime Minister: Let me explain what has been happening. As a result of the Chancellor running the strongest economy that this country has ever seen, we are able to make the investment in the national health service, in education and, yes, in prisons. But the right hon. Gentleman’s policy, which is to share the proceeds of growth between investment and tax cuts—that is his policy, is it not?—would mean cuts in the health service, and in prisons and in education. If he wants to debate the national health service, there are not 20,000 jobs being cut from the national health service [ Interruption.]—no, there are not—there are 300,000 extra people working in the NHS today. The Labour party is committed to increasing investment in the national health service and he is not.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about the Chancellor’s record. The Chancellor told us that he was going to freeze the assets of terrorists, but he could not even stop Abu Hamza buying a house while he was in prison. The youth justice system is in meltdown; the prison system cannot cope; dangerous prisoners are being released early; and there are no proper border controls. Is not this the truth: it does not matter who is in charge—Blair/Brown, Brown/Blair—this country is not safe under Labour?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman spent rather a long time preparing that this morning, I suspect. But let me just point out to him that we do remember that under the last Tory Government, crime doubled. Under this Government crime has fallen. We have introduced tougher measures, that is true, and have put more people into prison, but every one of those tough measures he opposed, so there is no point in his coming to the Dispatch Box now and asking, why we are not taking tougher action on crime. Every time that we try to take tougher action he is opposed to it. The truth is, he talks tough but he votes soft.

Hon. Members: More, more.

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that at this precise moment I have 100 rather attractive naked men outside my front door. That internationally renowned exhibition by Antony Gormley has attracted 600,000 visitors to the Sefton coastline, and much-needed money. We do not want to lose that exhibition but unfortunately local Tory councillors last week threw out the planning application for it. Will my right hon. Friend reassert his commitment to supporting the arts, recognising that it is a serious driver for economic renewal, and do everything that he can to enable Merseyside to enjoy that exhibition during our capital of culture year?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate those responsible —Antony Gormley and others—on the 100 naked men outside my hon. Friend’s door. That is a lot better than what is outside my door, which is the media every morning—my apologies for that—but I suppose we should be grateful: at least they are clothed.

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