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Cluster Munitions

4. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What assessment he has made of the development issues arising from the use of cluster munitions during the recent conflict in Lebanon. [107820]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The UN mine centre estimates there are about 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in southern Lebanon. They obviously pose a continuing threat to life, and it will take an estimated 12 to 15 months to clear them. That is why the UK provided £1.5 million for the clearance of those munitions in the immediate aftermath of the fighting and why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently announced a further £1.2 million for the purpose.

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Mr. Carmichael: I thank the Minister for that answer, but the humanitarian consequences of the use of cluster munitions in south Lebanon are absolutely desperate. Does he not feel a certain frustration that—while the Government, through his Department, are investing in the clearance programmes in south Lebanon—the Ministry of Defence continues to support and condone the use of cluster munitions, thus ensuring the depressing certainty that next time we go in to clear up the aftermath of a conflict, the situation will be exactly the same?

Mr. Thomas: No, I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view of my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. They—together with colleagues in the Foreign Office, working with the Department for International Development—have led the effort to make progress in securing a long-term treaty that properly brings in all the major users and producers of cluster munitions. He will know from the statements that have been released on the issue that we are working, first through a group of Government experts, to resolve some of the basic technical questions about cluster munitions that have yet to be resolved. We hope that that will achieve its desired outcome over the next 12 months, so that we can then move forward to the meaningful negotiations that we all want across Whitehall to get the major users and producers into a legally binding treaty.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is not about how we pay in aid for the clearance of cluster bombs, but about the fact that they should not be used in civilian areas at all? Will he take that fight to the United Nations to ensure that they are not used in civilian areas?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that cluster munitions, where they are used, should be used in line with the principles of international humanitarian law. The humanitarian impact is one of the questions that will be considered by the group of Government experts. As I say, there is an initial 12-month process in which those experts will look at the definitions, as I have described, and we then want to move on, through the UN process, to meaningful long-term negotiations to get all the major users and producers of those munitions bound into an international treaty.

Child Labour

5. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to reduce child labour in Latin America. [107821]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Child labour is declining rapidly in Latin America—the International Labour Organisation suggests by as much as two thirds since 2000. Although those statistics require further examination, there is no doubt about the positive long-term trend. We fund work in Latin America on child labour—for example, through our support for the ILO and UNICEF and our contributions to the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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Mrs. James: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He and his Department have been working hard to focus support on the plight of street children in Brazil and Peru— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Allow the hon. Lady to be heard.

Mrs. James: Will my hon. Friend pay attention, however, to countries such as Guatemala, Colombia and Honduras which have some of the highest numbers of working children in Latin America? Can we not allow them to have a childhood, too?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the success in Brazil and Peru. In Brazil, we should pay tribute to the Government of President Lula. In reforming the previous system of cash transfer payments, supported by the World Bank, which we fund, he has helped to ensure that grants are given to families to make sure that their children go to school. My hon. Friend is right, however, to say that a substantial challenge remains in many other parts of Latin America, such as Guatemala and Honduras. That is why, through the ILO, we are supporting programmes there that work to reduce the number of children who are still engaged in commercial agriculture, gravel production and the fireworks industry. We will continue to fund the ILO to do that work, and we hope to see further reductions in Guatemala and Honduras in the same way as we have seen them in Brazil.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Minister accept an invitation to visit the charity Casa Alianza, based in Kettering, which is one of the leading national organisations that helps street children in central America?

Mr. Thomas: I welcome the invitation and I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about the organisation, which he clearly knows well. If I am visiting the area, I will happily come to see that charity.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [107800] Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday6 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of the Royal Marine from 45 Commando who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. As I saw when I met the troops there some days ago, he was doing an extraordinary job and we can be very proud of him. In addition, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the two members of the East Sussex fire and rescue service, Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker, who were killed tackling the fire near
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Lewes on Sunday. They died protecting their community, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this time.

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.

Dr. Gibson: I am sure that we all join my right hon. Friend in the sentiments that he expresses. I am tempted to ask him whether he will bring the boys back home by Christmas—but even with his powers, I do not think that the English cricket team would agree to that. On a more serious note, last Thursday there was a large meeting of the all-party cancer group in the Queen Elizabeth hall, which was well attended. At that meeting, the Secretary of State for Health made everybody feel good about cancer treatments in this country for the future and announced a new cancer strategy, which was welcomed by patient groups, charities and clinicians. That is important. Does my right hon. Friend agree that giving information to patients, from early diagnosis right through to palliative care, empowers them and gives them the choice that we desire them to have?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of keeping patients fully informed, especially in the very difficult circumstances when they are diagnosed with cancer. He is right to point out that, over the past few years, there has been enormous progress. Not only are we spending about £600 million more, but there are 1,500 more consultant posts. Most importantly, almost 100 per cent. of people are now seen within two weeks by a consultant when they are suspected of having cancer—up from two thirds a few years back. As a result of the cancer strategy, which, as my hon. Friend indicates, we are now taking forward, about 50,000 lives have been saved—as a result of the improvements in treatment. That is a national health service that is getting better all the time.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the Royal Marine who was killed yesterday in Afghanistan, and I associate this side of the House with what he said about the East Sussex fire service and the two brave men who lost their lives.

Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing a heroic job in difficult circumstances, as I have seen for myself in both places. Yesterday, the new US Defence Secretary said that we were not winning the war in Iraq. Does the Prime Minister share that very serious assessment?

The Prime Minister: Of course: in July I said myself that the situation in Baghdad, with sectarian killing, was appalling and that the bloodshed was appalling. What is important, however, as the Defence Secretary went on to say, is that we go on to succeed in the mission that we have set ourselves. The most important thing is to understand why this problem has come about. It has come about because outside extremists are linking up with internal extremists to thwart the will of the Iraqi people, expressed in their election, for a non-sectarian Government and a non-sectarian
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future. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is important that we build the capability of those Governments in those countries to withstand the terrorists and make sure that democracy succeeds.

Mr. Cameron: We had a candid assessment from the US Defence Secretary; my point is that we want equally candid assessments from the Prime Minister. It looks increasingly likely —[ Interruption. ] That is right: we should not just have to hear from other people; we should hear from the Prime Minister. It looks increasingly likely that the Baker-Hamilton report will lead to changes in US policy. Will the Prime Minister tell the House of Commons today what he thinks those changes should be?

The Prime Minister: Exactly as I described them last time I spoke to the House, after I gave evidence to the Baker-Hamilton inquiry. They fit into two categories. First, inside Iraq, it is important that we complete the building up of capability, especially that of the Iraqi army. For example, down in the south, the Iraqi army is now capable of taking on security in two out of the four provinces and it is increasingly doing so in Basra. We have to complete that process. We must also ensure that the governance and capability of the Iraqi Government are improved. That relates not only to the way in which the Government function, but to the disbursement of money in both Sunni and Shi’a areas. It is important that we make sure that the process of reconciliation that the Iraqi Prime Minister has outlined is carried through with greater effect than has been the case so far. Secondly, outside Iraq, as I said to the inquiry, and as I have said to the House on many occasions, we have to pursue a policy for the whole middle east, which means in particular—and starting with—finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. That will be absolutely essential if we are to put that region on a more stable footing.

Mr. Cameron: Of course we should discuss the Baker-Hamilton recommendations with our allies and work with them as closely as possible. However, decisions on the future of British troops in Iraq must be taken by the British Government in the British national interest. Does the Prime Minister understand that the British public want to hear a reassurance from him on that vital point?

The Prime Minister: Of course we have got to decide this policy on the basis of the British national interest. It has always been my view that it was in the British national interest to remove Saddam Hussein and to stand shoulder to shoulder after 9/11 with our American allies. At the moment, it is important that we complete the mission that we have set for ourselves in the south of the country. Thanks to the work that British troops have been doing, the operation that has been going on bit by bit in Basra to turn over control of security to Iraqi forces has been completed in about half the city. Reconstruction and development projects are going in behind that. I am pleased to say that the process has been relatively successful, and if it is successful, of course it diminishes the need for British troops to patrol in Basra. Our strategy is absolutely clear: to make sure that we build up the Iraqi capability, but to do so in a way that makes it absolutely clear to
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the people fighting us in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere that we stand on the side of people who support democracy, and that we stand up to terrorists and are prepared to fight them and take them on, wherever they may be.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): The Prime Minister will know that I argued for 30 years for the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, which killed so many of my friends. When my right hon. Friend meets President Bush later today, will he make it clear that despite all the setbacks, we will continue to be committed to ending tyranny and upholding justice, whether that is in Iraq, Palestine, or elsewhere in the world?

The Prime Minister: I certainly will. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s steadfast support of those who favour democracy in Iraq and elsewhere. As she rightly implies, it is important to emphasise that the people whom we are fighting are al-Qaeda linking up with Sunni extremists and Iranian-backed elements linking up with Shi’a militia. Those are the self-same forces that we are fighting in Afghanistan and different parts of the world. As we build up the capability of the Iraqi and Afghan Governments, it is important that we send a very clear signal that our mission is to support those who are in favour of democracy, and that we will continue to do so.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence. The new American Defence Secretary also said that all options were on the table. Among those options, is there phased withdrawal on the part of British forces?

The Prime Minister: Let me explain again to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is our strategy to withdraw as the Iraqis become capable of taking on their security. That has been our strategy from the beginning and it remains our strategy now—I assume that he agrees with it.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Let me say this to the Prime Minister: is it not clear that the British Government have no policy of their own in relation to Iraq and that we are wholly dependent on decisions taken in Washington? What sort of strategy, and what sort of legacy, is that?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely because we believe in supporting the Iraqi Government, who have asked for our presence in the south of the country to ensure that we protect Iraqi people until the Iraqis have the capability to do so, that we remain in Iraq. As, progressively, the Iraqis become capable of taking on their security, which they are doing in two out of the four provinces and in one half of Basra—we are now completing the mission in the other half of Basra—the need for British troops diminishes. That is our strategy. I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is very important, especially at this moment when British troops are doing an extraordinary job in the most difficult circumstances, that we make it clear that the people fighting us down in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, are people whom we will take on, fight and defeat anywhere that they are.

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Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 140, in my name, which is supported by Members from all parties, regarding the treatment of the Hindu community in Kazakhstan? Only two weeks ago, 60 families were attacked and their homes were destroyed by riot police. Most of them are homeless now, and they face a terrible, cold winter. Will my right hon. Friend talk to his friend the President of Kazakhstan to see what he can do for those victims, who are suffering and whose only crime was to hold the Hindu faith?

The Prime Minister: We have made our concerns clear to the Kazakhstan Government. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is important to make sure, whether in Almaty or anywhere else, that people are free to practise their religious faith. I assure him that we will do all we can, on our own behalf and through the non-governmental organisations with which we are co-operating there, to make sure that Hindus who have been discriminated against in that way are properly protected.

Mr. Cameron: One in five children leaving primary school cannot read properly. Will the Prime Minister confirm that this year the national reading tests results have got worse?

The Prime Minister: It is correct that the figure is at 83 per cent., rather than 84 per cent., but let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that that is a huge improvement on the situation that we inherited in 1997. Let me say one other thing that I think will be of interest to the House: although it is correct that, at level 4, overall there is a 1 per cent. fall to 83 per cent., the number of children within that who are now attaining level 5, which is over and above what they are required to achieve, has more than doubled since 1997. I am grateful for the opportunity to point that out. For the first time, in reading and in science, the percentage of children within the cohort getting to level 5 at age 11 is now almost 50 per cent. I agree that we still have a lot more to do, but thanks to investment and reform under this Government, much progress has been made.

Mr. Cameron: Does that not just show the complacency of the Government? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Cameron.

Mr. Cameron: Yesterday, the new head of Ofsted said that the number of 11-year-olds who cannot read was a national disaster. One fifth of school children cannot find Great Britain on the map. The Prime Minister may be spending extra money, but he is not getting the basics right. Now let us turn to secondary school education. Yesterday the Treasury, the home of the clunking fist— [Interruption. ] But the Chancellor is not much of a clunking fist; he cannot even get rid of a lame duck. Yesterday the Treasury said that more than one in six young people leave school unable to read, write or add up properly. Given that young people leaving school today have spent almost all their schooling under a Labour Government, does that not show the extent of the failure?

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