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
Mr Blair: I did not as a matter
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
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".
Is this the right way to build a consensus for a very controversial
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
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
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
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
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
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 communitywe
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
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
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 upand I am
afraid this is in my view what has to happen but it is difficultand
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 situationand you can see this in
some of the comments that are made, and I will not single any
outwhere 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
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