Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)


4 JULY 2006

  Q340  Peter Luff: This has been very interesting, what you have just said, Prime Minister. You have actually told us that you did prejudge the energy review which is fascinating.

  Mr Blair: I did not as a matter of fact.

  Q341  Peter Luff: Well, you actually did. You said you had made up your mind that you wanted nuclear and the review was to determine whether or not it proved you were right or wrong.

  Mr Blair: No, what I said was that I believed that, because of the way that the changes had happened, I could not see how we were going to be able to meet our targets both on energy security and on climate change without going back to the nuclear option, but of course if the review were to prove that that was the wrong thing to do, it would not be the thing that we would do. There is, as I say, a slight air of unreality about this in the sense that you normally commission a review because you have formed the opinion that things have to change.

  Q342  Peter Luff: But no one said publicly at the time the review was commissioned that it was to prove your view that we needed nuclear power. The consensus that is emerging during this review process is the need for technology neutrality actually from government policy and the market will then determine what is the appropriate generating framework to provide our energy requirements. Jonathan Porritt told my Committee that "the way in which the Government is handling the process around the Energy Review is not clever . . . allowing an awful lot of people to assume the assumption was wrong", that it is an impartial process, and "an exercise in rubber-stamping decisions at a higher level." If they seem to be "falling short on that score," that is transparency, "then the Government will be its own worst enemy because of it" because people need to be taken along in this process. He described your language at a CBI dinner as "more to do with bad American films than with proper government"[1]. Is this the right way to build a consensus for a very controversial policy?

  Mr Blair: In the end people have to make their minds up. I know people always want to take refuge in decision-making in the process, but in the end, like anything in the world in which we live, you conduct all these debates with great public attention and public controversy, but in the end there is a simple question that everyone is going to have to face up to. Over the next few years, three things are going to happen—

  Q343  Mr Beith: I think we know what the question is, Prime Minister.

  Mr Blair: But it is the answers that you have to come up with at some point, when you are sitting in my seat anyway.

  Peter Luff: It is the process.

  Q344  Mr Miller: As you said, Prime Minister, the Energy Paper left open the option of nuclear build. One of the questions which was posed in the consultation paper published in January was: are there particular considerations which should apply to nuclear as the Government re-examines the issues bearing on new build, including long-term liabilities and waste management and, if so, what are these and how should the Government address them? There were 5,300 people who responded to that review. Could we have 5,301? What advice are you receiving on these rather important points?

  Mr Blair: On nuclear waste, decommissioning and so on?

  Q345  Mr Miller: On the liabilities and waste management side.

  Mr Blair: Well, the truth again here is because we have got our existing stock of nuclear power stations, then we will have to deal with these issues of decommissioning and waste management and so on. One of the issues obviously is that the new generation of nuclear power stations do generate, I think, around about 10 per cent of the waste of the old ones and also of course I think the technology in dealing with waste management may change over the years to come, but the advice that we have received, and obviously there will be the energy review, but then also CORUM will make its decisions as well, we are going to have to deal with it. My point about it, and this is why I think it is important to talk about the replacement of the nuclear power stations, we are going to have to deal with that in any event, even if we decide we are going to allow the nuclear power stations to be phased out.

  Chairman: We have to move on to the next section.

  Q346  Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister, when you first took office, you told your ministers that their duty was to uphold the highest standards in public life. Since then, we have had a spate of resignations from the Cabinet, including two members of the Cabinet who resigned twice, each of which you have sought to prevent. The Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said that, in his opinion, you see standards as a peripheral issue, not worthy of serious consideration. Now, that is a fairly serious charge. How do you respond?

  Mr Blair: I just totally disagree with it. I do see it as extremely important, but I also think it is important that you take action on the basis of evidence and not on the basis of whatever story is in the media from time to time, which this Government and indeed previous governments have found can be quite difficult to deal with sometimes.

  Q347  Mr Whittingdale: In relation to looking at the facts and taking evidence, earlier this year you appointed Sir John Bourn to be an adviser on ministerial interests and to investigate specific cases. That was something which was welcomed even though it was three years after the Committee had originally recommended it should take place. Now, since then, Lord Sainsbury has admitted that he has broken the Ministerial Code and the question of whether or not John Prescott has broken the Ministerial Code has been investigated by the Permanent Secretary. Would it not be better if Sir John himself were able to initiate an investigation rather than waiting in these cases in vain for you to invite him to do so?

  Mr Blair: The difficulty in this area is this: that allegations are made against ministers the entire time and if you have somebody who is going to be investigating each one of these allegations, as you often find, it is not as if everyone shuts up and lets them get on with the investigation and then, after a period of calm and quiet, they come out with a decision. What actually happens is that these things are done in a pretty high-octane way day after day after day and if I think there is reason to believe that someone has broken the Ministerial Code, I will take action. If I think it is appropriate to bring in Sir John, I will do that, but I am not going to do that every time someone makes an allegation.

  Q348  Mr Whittingdale: Just to take two recommendations which might help to restore public confidence in the system which I think you would probably accept is lacking at present, Sir Alistair has said that the reports of the adviser should be published and that the Opposition Parties should be consulted before any successor is appointed. Are those two recommendations ones which you would accept?

  Mr Blair: Well, I will think about both of those. I have not actually reflected particularly on the latter one which does not sound completely unreasonable to me actually, I must say, but again you will form your own experiences. You were, I think, or were you special adviser on something?

  Q349  Mr Whittingdale: Political Secretary.

  Mr Blair: I do not know quite how much of this I really should say, but my experience is that every time you try to introduce a new system or a new way of becoming more open, more accountable, the credit you get for it in terms of restoring trust in public life is somewhat limited, but anyway I am happy to look again.

  Chairman: Thank you. We move on now to the next section which is chaired by John Denham and it is the counter-terrorism strategy.

  Q350  Mr Denham: Prime Minister, obviously the timing of this session means that everybody is thinking about the appalling events of last year's bombings and the victims and their families. It is now nearly a year since those atrocious attacks. What would you say you have achieved in the past year in the attempt to make us safer?

  Mr Blair: I think the most important thing is that the security services and the police have carried out their tasks in, as ever in my view, an exemplary way and have actually protected us against further attack although we know there are people who may contemplate such a thing in our country. I also think that there is, but I do not put it higher than this and it is something I have no doubt we will explore now, a greater sense of a debate, particularly within the Muslim community, about extremism and how it should be combated. In addition to that I think that there is and was after 7 July a very clear sense in the country that we want to resolve this issue in a way that keeps the country together rather than pitting communities against each other.

  Q351  Mr Denham: Prime Minister, I just observe in passing that you did not mention last year's terrorism legislation as a particularly significant event in making us more secure.

  Mr Blair: Of course it is. It is very important in terms of our ability to defeat terrorism but that in a sense is part of the work that the police and the security services do in applying that legislation. I think, and, as I say, I am very happy to get into this, that the roots of this extremism lie in attitudes and ideas as much as organisation and I do not think there is an answer to this terrorism that is simply about police work or security measures.

  Q352  Mr Denham: You say, Prime Minister, that there are people planning attacks. The London bombers were British, the people who are accused of being would-be bombers are either British or have been brought up here and the police tell us that other young British people are planning attacks. The truth is that we can be pretty certain, can we not, as we sit here that there are young British people who are actively planning and would like to get away with similar terrorist outrages?

  Mr Blair: There is no doubt, as the police said yesterday, that there are groups that we believe are engaged in planning this type of activity.

  Q353  Mr Denham: And there is a poll in the papers today saying that 13% of Muslims regard those who killed themselves and other people last year as martyrs. You have to ask the question why the Government appears to have done so little to win hearts and minds in the year that has passed since last July.

  Mr Blair: I will tell you my view, again very bluntly. First of all, let us be very clear, as the poll also shows, that the overwhelming majority of Muslims utterly abhor this extremism and are completely opposed to the fanaticism that gives rise to it and are completely on the same side as everybody else in wanting to defeat it. The Government has its role to play this but, honestly, the Government itself is not going to defeat this. This is my view again, and I set it out in a speech I made in March: if you want to defeat this extremism you have to defeat its ideas and you have to defeat in particular a completely false sense of grievance against the West. That has to be done, yes, by Government but it also has to be done by mobilising that moderate majority within the Muslim community to go into the community and take these people head-on, not just in terms of their methods but also in terms of their ideas, in terms of their sense of grievance against the West, the whole basis of that ideology, because this is a global ideology that we are fighting.

  Q354  Mr Denham: Last summer, Prime Minister, you went to representatives of that part of the Muslim community and invited them to form working groups under the title "Preventing Extremism Together". Why did you do that?

  Mr Blair: Because it is important that we facilitate as much dialogue as we can with the Muslim community. I have done meetings with young Muslims up in the north. I had a meeting with Muslim women, which I found absolutely fascinating, in Downing Street, and if anyone wants to know how false the view is that Muslims as a whole are in favour of this type of extremism these women were devout Muslims but were completely opposed to this entire extremist ideology. Can I come back to the point that I made a moment or two ago because again I think there is a tendency that people would want an easy solution to this. This is a global movement with an ideology. It is not a British movement; it is a world-wide movement. There is a reason why these people have been picked up in Canada as well as the UK. There is a reason why they were plotting terrorist activities in Spain even after the Spanish had withdrawn their troops from Iraq. There is a reason why in countless countries throughout the world, like Egypt and Indonesia and so on, which have nothing to do with the foreign policy decisions of the West, these terrorist acts are happening.

  Q355  Mr Denham: That may well be true, Prime Minister, but you invited representatives of what you call, quite rightly, the Muslim majority to advise the Government on what needed to be done and what help they needed in taking on the task that you have talked about. When they reported the group said, "The working groups are united in urging the Government to engage with the Muslim communities at all levels in a sustained dialogue and not as a one-off event. It is imperative to recognise that this report is regarded as the initiation of a long-term process". The reality is, Prime Minister, is it not, that those that took part in those working groups overwhelmingly feel that they were brought in for short term purposes and the reports have not been followed through and most of the recommendations have not been implemented?

  Mr Blair: I keep reading this, but if you look at the recommendations, and I think there were 64 of them, many of them are obviously for the community itself to take forward. In respect of the ones to do with Government, we are taking them forward apart from some, like a public inquiry, where we obviously do not agree with what is being recommended. The idea that we are not trying to engage with the Muslim community—we are trying to engage with them but in the end Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities. I am probably not the person to go into the Muslim community and persuade them that this extreme view of Islam is completely mistaken and completely contrary to the proper tenets of the religion of Islam. It is better that you mobilise the Islamic community itself to do this.

  Q356  Mr Denham: But the problem is, Prime Minister, that they have produced these reports and on page after page there are recommendations, not on how the Government should do this job for the Muslim community; you are absolutely right about that, but on the support that the Muslim community wanted in doing this job, and most of those recommendations have not been implemented. The Government has never produced any sort of action plan, any timescale for implementing those recommendations.

  Mr Blair: I do not agree with that, John.

  Q357  Mr Denham: There is not, to the best of my knowledge, an action plan or a timescale or any report of what has been achieved.

  Mr Blair: There is a systematic taking forward of the recommendations with which we agree. Let me give you an example of one that came to fruition last week and that is to do with the Advisory Board of Imams and Mosques in respect of those people who go and preach in mosques. For example, in relation to the engagement with the Muslim community, there are ministers engaging with this all over the country. I profoundly disagree that the problem here is that the Government has not acted. That is not the problem. In my view this is the problem: we are not having a debate of a fundamental enough nature within the community itself where the moderate majority go and stand up against the ideas of these people, not just their methods.

  Q358  Mr Denham: Do you not recognise, Prime Minister, that the difficulty is that those that you asked and who willingly came forward to be in the front line in that discussion feel let down? Sadiq Khan, your and my Labour colleague, is not a wild radical but he talked last night of the danger of the Government looking like the Grand Old Duke of York, leading these moderate leaders up the hill and down again and leaving them high and dry. Do you not recognise that there is a sense of disillusionment amongst the very people that you asked to go into the forefront of that ideological battle for hearts and minds?

  Mr Blair: The point that Sadiq was making was specifically on the public inquiry and we can come to that and I can explain the reasons why I am wholly opposed to such a thing taking place. I do not accept that we are not engaging with the Muslim community. I know everyone always wants to blame the Government for absolutely everything that is happening, and I am not saying that we do not have a huge responsibility which we are trying to discharge in having a dialogue with the Muslim community and trying to make sure that we engage with the reasons for this extremism, but I just say to you that my view in the end is that you cannot defeat this extremism through whatever a Government does. You can only defeat it if there are people inside the community who are going to stand up—and I am afraid this is in my view what has to happen but it is difficult—and not merely say, "You are wrong to kill people through terrorism, you are wrong to incite terrorism or extremism", but actually, "You are wrong in your view about the West, you are wrong in this sense of grievance that people play on within the community as if Muslims were oppressed by the West. The whole sense of grievance, the ideology, is profoundly wrong. There may be disagreements that you have with America, with the UK, with the western world but none of it justifies not merely the methods but also the ideas which are far too current within parts of the community". My view is that until you challenge that at its root you are always going to be left in the situation—and you can see this in some of the comments that are made, and I will not single any out—where people kind of say, and I am putting it maybe in a harsher way than I mean to but I am doing it to make a point, "Look: we understand why you feel like this and we can sympathise with that but you are wrong to do these things". You are not going to defeat it like that. You are only going to defeat it if you say, "You are wrong to feel those things".

  Q359  Mr Denham: Prime Minister, just as you may not be the person to go and win all the arguments in the community, I am not necessarily the person to speak for the people in the working group although I have met many of them. Can I ask you this, Prime Minister? If you are as confident as you are in the progress that has been made since last summer are you prepared to meet again with all the people you invited to be in those working groups to discuss with them where they feel progress has got to?

  Mr Blair: Of course I am very happy to do that, and I know that Government ministers do meet people the whole time, but sometimes in some of the recommendations that are made you will have a disagreement and what Sadiq singled out was this issue of the public inquiry. As I say, I am very happy to give my reasons as to why this is not the right thing to do.

1   Oral Evidence from the Trade and Industry Committee: Nuclear New Build: Issues to be addressed, ( Session 2005-06) HC 1122-ii Qq108-109 Back

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