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Departmental Travel

12. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What his departmental expenditure on travel has been in the past six months. [125509]

15. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): How many foreign visits he has undertaken since May 2006. [125512]

The Deputy Prime Minister: All overseas and domestic travel will be accounted for in the usual way.

In the past six months, I have undertaken a number of overseas visits on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in addition to those already announced
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to the House. Among the most recent was a visit to Romania and Bulgaria in January, when I had meetings with the Prime Ministers and Presidents of both those countries following their accession to the European Union. We discussed key areas of co-operation, such as managed access to the labour market for different categories of workers in the European Union.

Last week, I met representatives of the World Health Organisation in Geneva to discuss the serious implications of climate change for public health. I had discussions with a number of UN agencies, including the International Labour Organisation, about people trafficking and the Government’s intention to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings.

Ann Winterton: The Deputy Prime Minister has been given a role in responding to climate change. He has given us a litany of the travel that he has undertaken in the past six months, yet he has not answered my question about the cost of that travel—it is a considerable cost to the public purse. Does he have any concerns about the environmental impact of such travel? While the Government have a carbon offsetting scheme, which is worthy in its own right, the cost of that is also borne by the British taxpayer.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Lady is making a point about the cost of travel, and she will get the figures for the year, which will be produced in the normal way. I have compared our travel costs with those of the previous Administration, as set out in a parliamentary reply. Between 1993 and 1996, the average Government expenditure on overseas travel was £6.6 million, while between 2003 and 2006—the last three years of this Government—the expenditure was more than £1 million a year less. We not only spend less, but we are more effective in international operations, especially on climate change.

Mr. Burns: Has the Deputy Prime Minister noticed that the list of ministerial responsibilities describes his own as:

Does he think that the Prime Minister allows him to wander around the world so as to fill up his day because he does not seem to have enough to do on domestic policy, which is, by definition, the job that he is appointed to do?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The job that I do is at the request of the Prime Minister, as was true of every Deputy Prime Minister, whether that was Mr. Heseltine acting at the request of Mr. Major, or me. The job is defined by the Prime Minister—that is what comes with the title of Deputy Prime Minister.

As for travelling abroad, what I am doing is relevant to the Cabinet Committees for which I have some responsibility. I mentioned human trafficking in reply to a question asked by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). It was appropriate for me to have a meeting with the ILO and other UN bodies in Geneva to inform myself of the proper measures that the Government should be introducing so that we could implement them. It is relevant to travel
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to learn what other parties and Governments are doing right across a range of issues—climate change and others—so that we can give leadership, as we do, in all those areas.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What use do the Government make of video conferencing and other new technology to avoid the need for domestic and international travel for face-to-face meetings? What impact does that have on reducing the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change?

The Deputy Prime Minister: By definition, using the available technology leads to a reduction in carbon emissions. It might shock the House to know that I have it in my office. I use that technology from time to time, but there are times when face-to-face meetings are needed, which means travel. Indeed, I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has travelled to Europe to discuss climate change and other matters. In reality, although a lot of fuss is made about this, air travel is necessary in the global world.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): How far do travel costs explain the extraordinary 30 per cent. inflationary increase in the Deputy Prime Minister’s supplementary estimate, taking it to £2.5 million? When public spending growth and increases in nurses’ pay are being kept below the rate of inflation, how can he justify that extravagance?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman’s profession is accountancy. If that is his reading of the figures, I would suspect most of his other arguments on the economy. In reality, as he must know if he has looked at the figures, there are no extra costs involved whatever. It is a transfer that, according to the auditor, needs to be made. Instead of other Departments paying, the figure is now attributed to my Department. Exactly the same money is used, in terms of total expenditure; it is just apportioned differently. I am amazed that he, as an accountant, did not know that simple fact.


13. Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the debate that he is seeking to organise for young people from Commonwealth countries on the consequences of slavery. [125510]

The Deputy Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, you will recall the enthusiasm and the high quality of the discussion that took place when, as Deputy Speaker, you chaired a debate for young people whom I had brought together some years ago to examine environmental policy. I am hoping that a similar debate will be arranged as part of our plans to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I am discussing with various authorities, including the British Council, which does excellent work on the issue, the possibility of getting young people from a number of Commonwealth countries, as well as younger people from across the United Kingdom, to participate in that debate, which I hope will take place in the Houses of Parliament. The debate will allow our young people, who live in an increasingly interconnected world, to
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share their thoughts and experiences of life in a discussion on the growing problem of human trafficking. They will be able to reflect on the past, and look to the future.

Anne Snelgrove: My right hon. Friend is right to seek to hold that debate. Will he inform the House of how his discussions with young people in Sierra Leone and Gambia have informed his thinking on the debate, and will he meet me to discuss how the subject of modern-day slavery could play a part in the discussions?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I most certainly will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matters. Indeed, the House will have a chance on 20 March to debate the issue of slavery. The importance of bringing young people together was impressed on me during our visit to the classrooms and schools in Sierra Leone and Ghana. In a powerful commemoration of the bicentenary, a slave scene was enacted, in which people dressed in chains, like the slaves of that time, and were chained to a person with a whip. One of the lines that was said, to which everybody should give thought, was that not every white man was guilty and not every black man was innocent. In those circumstances, if we saw the broader picture of the problem of slavery, we could start a proper debate about the issues, instead of about the total shame that we feel about the actions that took place more than 200 years ago.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [125429] Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 7 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am afraid that before listing my engagements I must ask the whole House, again, to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of those members of our armed forces who have fallen in the line of duty in the past week. Private Jonathon Wysoczan of the 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment died on Saturday as result of injuries sustained last week in Iraq. He was a brave soldier and we pay tribute to him. We also send our condolences to the family and friends of Lance Bombardiers Liam McLaughlin and Ross Clark, both of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, and of Marine Benjamin Reddy of 42 Commando Royal Marines, who were killed in Afghanistan helping to ensure that the project on the Kajaki dam went ahead. That will bring electricity to 1.8 million people in the south of Afghanistan and make a huge difference to the lives of people there and to the economy. The work that they were doing is of enormous importance, and I think our armed forces who are, at the present time, in the south of Afghanistan are displaying a heroism that, even given the rich history of the British military, is almost unparalleled, and we pay tribute to all of them.

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

Mr. McGovern: First, may I associate not only myself but, I am sure, all Members on this side of the House with the Prime Minister’s message of condolence? [Interruption.] Members on both sides of the House; I beg hon. Members’ pardon.

€50 to visit a GP; €85 per month in prescription charges; 25 per cent. VAT; 50 per cent. income tax; and, hardest of all for some people to swallow, £8 for a pint of beer; does my right hon. Friend believe that the Scottish people would accept those characteristics, all of which are drawn from small European countries regularly used for the purposes of comparison by Members of Parliament who advocate independence for Scotland?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes his point very well. The truth of the matter is that England benefits from Scotland being in the United Kingdom, and Scotland benefits from being in the United Kingdom. In the past few years, we have seen dramatic falls in unemployment and rises in employment. Some 200,000 extra jobs have been created, and there is a strong Scottish economy. About £11 billion-worth more money is spent on public services in Scotland and it is raised by taxes, so wrenching Scotland from the UK would be very serious for the Scottish economy and the living standards of the Scottish people.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier who died following his service in Iraq. We pay tribute, too, to Lance Bombardier Ross Clark, Lance Bombardier Liam McLaughlin and Marine Benjamin Reddy, who were killed in Afghanistan. They died taking part in a NATO operation enforcing a UN mandate, and helping a democratically elected Government. As the Prime Minister said, they were in the front line against terrorism.

This week, NATO launched a significant offensive in the south of the country. With spring approaching, many people expect the intensity of the fighting to increase. Are the Prime Minister and the Cabinet confident that British forces are sufficiently backed by other NATO countries, are properly reinforced and adequately equipped, not just to withstand attack but to secure peace and security throughout Helmand province?

The Prime Minister: I believe that the additional contribution that we are making and the contributions of other NATO countries are immensely important. For example, Sweden has made a decision today to reinforce its armed forces in the north of Afghanistan. Other countries are providing assistance for reconstruction and extra equipment such as helicopters and so on. All of that is important, but it is fair to say that, yes, of course, we want our NATO partners to do even more, which is why in the meeting in Seville a short time ago we pressed for that, and we will continue to press for it. The important thing about our own reinforcements in Afghanistan is that they are there not just to complete our mission but to protect our troops.
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Mr. Cameron: I am grateful for that answer. Britain has 5,500 troops in Afghanistan, but does the Prime Minister agree with me that this year, there will be significant pressure for further reinforcements unless we encourage other NATO countries to do more and, vitally, if we remove the caveats on many of the NATO forces in Afghanistan? Will he update us on progress on those two vital objectives?

The Prime Minister: As I said, other countries such as Australia are committing forces and additional equipment. However, it is important that we recognise that the extra 1,400 troops whom we are sending in as reinforcements will play a vital role, not just in securing the southern part of Afghanistan but in ensuring that our own troops are better protected. It is correct that some countries have lifted caveats, but others have not, and we continue to press them to do so the entire time. Yes, of course, I want more to be done by other NATO countries, and that will be part of informal discussions, I do not doubt, at the European summit as well as in any NATO meeting. In the end, we must make sure that we discharge our responsibility, which is not dependent on what others can do with us, although we press them to do more. We believe—this is probably the reality—that it is only the British forces who can make a real difference in south Afghanistan. It is tough for them, as we can see. Anyone who has read the accounts of what British forces are doing, particularly in the northern part of Helmand, will have read an extraordinary story of heroism and courage. We believe that we have to do it—we think that it is right for the world—and, yes, we will continue to press others to come in with us. In the end, however, we are doing what we need to do, and we are proud of doing it.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is right that our troops are doing a magnificent job in the south, but with reference to his last answer in particular, we know that NATO commanders in the south have asked for two additional battle groups. We are providing one of them, but last week the Secretary of State for Defence was unable to say who would provide the other. Can the Prime Minister update us on that? More generally, given that last year in Helmand we saw attacks on soldiers increasing, high levels of insurgency, a rising poppy crop and the governor dismissed, how confident is he that over the next six months we will see real progress on all those fronts?

The Prime Minister: We should not ignore the progress that has already been made. The Afghan economy is double what it was a few years back. There are millions more girls now in school. We have reconstruction projects that are refurbishing schools and opening health clinics in Afghanistan. As important as anything else, it is not just the British forces and the forces of many other nations that are fighting down in the south of Afghanistan and elsewhere—it is an Afghan national army as well, whose capability is being built the whole time. Yes, we must press for the additional battle group from elsewhere. We are continuing to do that. At present we do not know the exact provenance of that battle group, but we are sure that in the end we will be able to get the support that we need. The important thing is to understand, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman
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would agree, that there has been real progress in Afghanistan. What our troops have been doing there is remarkable, but what the Afghan people themselves have been doing down in the south of Afghanistan is incredible, standing out against the bullies of the Taliban. We know that just a few months ago, for example, a teacher was taken out and executed in front of his class for teaching girls in school. That is the battle of values in which we are engaged. I entirely agree that we need to ensure that the whole world faces up to its responsibility, but I am primarily responsible for our contribution, which I think is right and proportionate. We will continue to work closely with other allies. It is worth pointing out that there are soldiers from many, many other nations working alongside us. They are doing an excellent job as well, and we continue to press for more.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend celebrate international women’s day by committing the Government to support the private Member’s Bill, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill, introduced in the other place by the Lord Lester of Herne Hill? I recognise that the Bill will not stop families forcing young people into unwanted marriage, but it will send a strong message that we are on the side of the victims of this wicked practice.

The Prime Minister: First, it would be right to pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done to make sure that we tackle forced marriages, which are an iniquitous practice. As I think I have indicated, although much has been done, not least the establishment of the forced marriages unit a couple of years ago, which assists about 300 victims of forced marriage a year—I pay tribute to the work of the unit—because we fully support the aims of the private Member’s Bill on forced marriage, we are looking to see how we can support the Bill and make sure that it is in order. I know that there is a strong feeling in all parts of the House that we should do all we can to end the practice.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence. We owe all these brave young men an enduring debt of gratitude. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, that the position of the Attorney-General, in his words, is not maintainable?

The Prime Minister: The position of the Attorney-General and the role that he carries out has been in our constitution for hundreds of years and I believe it to be the right role.

Sir Menzies Campbell: In the light of recent controversy in relation to Iraq, BAE and now cash for honours, is it not essential that the functions and responsibilities of the Attorney-General should be separate— [Interruption]—so that decisions about prosecution can be taken entirely independent of Government?

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is very bad manners to try to shout down a right hon. or an hon. Member.

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The Prime Minister: No, I am afraid I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Q2. [125430] Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the European Union’s treaty of Rome, will the Prime Minister find time to read an article called “Beware the Berlin Declaration”, which calls for this country to leave the European Union? It can be found on the blog Chameleons on Bicycles.

The Prime Minister: First, it will be a very good thing for the whole of Europe to celebrate 50 years of the European Union, which has brought peace and prosperity to a continent that used to be ravaged by war. I think that we should celebrate our own position in the European Union. I look forward to going to the European Council tomorrow in order to bring forward proposals for climate change, where I am pleased to say that at least this Government will have some allies in ensuring that the battle against climate change is taken to a proper fruition.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Last night, the BBC broadcast the Prime Minister’s political obituary; I am sure that it will be the first of many. In it, his senior foreign policy adviser in No. 10 Downing street, Sir Stephen Wall, speaking of his time working with the Prime Minister, said:

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