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Security Situation

6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [137961]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The security situation continues to improve beyond recognition, as last month’s report from the Independent Monitoring Commission made clear. But the report also shows that more is still needed from loyalist paramilitary groups to demonstrate their commitment to peace, and that dissident republicans continue to present a security threat.

Mr. Bellingham: Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), does the Minister agree that with the Provisional IRA army council in place, the IRA has a ready-made infrastructure to rebuild a terrorist capability rapidly at any time? Now that Sinn Fein is in government, surely the time has come for it finally to sever any links with its sister organisation the IRA? Otherwise, how can the Ulster public have real confidence in Sinn Fein Ministers?

Mr. Hain: I have dealt with those matters in detail before.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): With the normalisation of the security situation—and, we hope, the eventual delegation of full powers to the Welsh Assembly—is it not time to think about merging the Northern Ireland Office into an office for the nations and regions, providing a logical structure for administering the nations of the United Kingdom and the regions of England?

Mr. Hain: The House will note the hon. Gentleman’s representations, but there has been all sorts of speculation about that and I do not intend to pursue it.

Loyalist Paramilitary Organisations

7. Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): What progress has been made on loyalist decommissioning in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [137962]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): The recent meeting between the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning is a step in the right direction. It is vital that all loyalist paramilitary groups make a complete transition to peace and engage in full decommissioning.

Dr. McDonnell: Is the Minister aware that people want an end to all paramilitary activity—all the guns, intimidation, drug dealing, protection rackets and other threats to emerging normality—and is he also aware that while some elements within loyalism are making progress, people feel that he is only playing footsie with some hardliners who have no intention of ending their grip of fear on their local communities?

Paul Goggins: Of course my hon. Friend is right to say that we must continue to bear down on criminality and paramilitary activity. As I said in answer to an earlier question, my hope is that those involved in dissident republican groups and loyalist paramilitary organisations will see the wastefulness of the death and destruction of the last 40 years, and the positive hope that comes with democracy. Of course there will still be some hardliners, and they need to hear the message that we will not give up pursuing them and ensuring that if they do commit criminal acts, they are dealt with by the justice system.

Political Situation

9. Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Northern Ireland. [137964]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): We are all very encouraged by the positive start to devolution, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, his party colleagues and the other parties for the strong leadership that everyone has shown.

Mr. Dodds: I thank the Secretary of State for his comments. However, does he accept that to bed in political progress and stability in Northern Ireland, it is absolutely essential that the right economic and financial package, which was promised to the people of Northern Ireland, is put in place?

I welcome the presence of the Chancellor during these questions and his input into the work of progressing the economic package. I also welcome the fact that Sir David Varney is starting work on the corporation tax review this week. Can the Secretary of State assure us that progress will be made towards ensuring that a step change in the Northern Ireland economy can be made, moving forward, so that we can make real political and economic progress for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain: Yes, I can— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House needs to come to order. This noise is unfair to those who want to hear Northern Ireland questions.

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Mr. Hain: The Chancellor has been equally concerned to make sure that the incoming Executive, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, have the best possible start and the best possible financial platform to succeed. That will be the case; any final details will be settled, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied.

Historic Inquiries

10. Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): How much has been allocated to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2007-08 for historical inquiries. [137965]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): The historic inquiries team project has been allocated £34 million to re-examine all the unresolved deaths in Northern Ireland that were related to the security situation during the period from 1968 until the signing of the Belfast agreement.

Sammy Wilson: Is the Minister aware that up to 40 per cent. of police resources available for investigating serious crime can be diverted into historic inquiries, many of which originate from the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which many believe is engaged in a witch hunt against former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Does the Minister agree with the Superintendents Association of Northern Ireland, which says that perhaps now is the time to draw a line under the past and concentrate police resources on current policing needs, rather than on those politically motivated inquiries?

Paul Goggins: It is very important that the historic inquiries team should be able to fulfil the purpose for which it was first established: to look back at records and see whether explanations for unresolved deaths can be offered to families. However, I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to find other ways of drawing a line under the past—not to pretend that the past did not happen or that the hurt is not still there, but to focus our resources on the present and the future so that, going forward, Northern Ireland can enjoy peace and prosperity.

Organised Crime

11. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What plans he has to improve the effectiveness of policies to deal with organised crime in Northern Ireland. [137966]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): The multi-agency Organised Crime Task Force enables Government, law enforcement agencies and business to tackle organised crime in a co-ordinated, effective and strategic way. Next month, I shall publish the latest OCTF annual report and threat assessment.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the Minister for that considered and rational reply, but is there not a danger that acts of terrorism, which have dominated Northern Ireland in recent decades, could well be replaced by crimes committed by organisations? That
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would undermine the peace and stability that have recently come to Northern Ireland.

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is right; we know of the connection between organised criminality and those who in the past may have been involved in paramilitary activity. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Organised Crime Task Force brings all those agencies together to defeat those involved in organised crime. Indeed, yesterday I chaired a meeting of the Organised Crime Task Force stakeholder group, which brings business and law enforcement groups together. We will deal with organised crime, in order to eradicate it from Northern Ireland.

Provisional IRA Army Council

12. Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): What further progress is being made in the dismantling of paramilitary structures in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the Provisional IRA army council. [137967]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea)—and to him, too, I think.

Mr. Campbell: I thank the Secretary of State for the improving security situation, to which he has now referred twice. Can he ensure not only that the improvement continues, but that we systematically try to purge Northern Ireland society of all aspects of paramilitary activity?

Mr. Hain: Yes, indeed. I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We are determined that all remnants of paramilitary activity, especially by dissident republicans and loyalists, must be put aside and that everybody must turn their back on that activity, so that Northern Ireland can move forward to a confident, peaceful and democratic future under a devolved Government.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Millennium Development Goals

Q1. [138661] Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): What progress he will report to the forthcoming EU and G8 summits in respect of commitments to the millennium development goals.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): We are making progress on the commitments to the millennium development goals, particularly in respect of the commitment to halve the world’s population living in poverty, on which we are making significant progress. In respect of HIV/AIDS, we believe that we will have near universal access by 2010. In respect of primary education, there is a big increase in the numbers going into it in Africa, but we need to do much more. The G8 summit in a couple of weeks will be immensely
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important. Both in Washington last week and in Germany a couple of weeks ago, I urged the American and German Governments to do more in respect of Africa and poverty, and I hope very much that those efforts will come to fruition at the G8 conference.

Andrew George: We are halfway through the 15 years set by the rich world to deliver the millennium promise of making poverty history in the poorest countries around the globe, yet despite the fanfare at Gleneagles two years ago, there are stalled trade talks, the obstacle of an increasingly polarised and dangerous world and a failure to deliver the promised aid. As campaigners say, the world cannot wait, so does the Prime Minister believe that G8 leaders will ever live up to the hopes of their people and, if so, what does he believe is now necessary to deliver— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: First, I think that it is important that the G8 leaders live up to the commitments given at Gleneagles, and the next couple of weeks will be absolutely vital in that regard. As a result of Gleneagles, we have wiped out billions of dollars-worth of debt for some of the poorest countries and radically increased the number of children going into primary education—often precisely because of that debt relief. This country should be proud of the fact that it has trebled its aid to Africa and doubled its overall aid budget. As a result of what we are able to do now on HIV/AIDS, a real difference is being made: hundreds of thousands of lives are being saved in Africa. We have to do more and we will do more—the next couple of weeks will be vital in that—but we should be particularly proud of what this country has achieved in relation to the millennium development goals.

Early Intervention

Q2. [138662] Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What research he has evaluated on early intervention measures to tackle the causes of inequality, deprivation and under-attainment.

The Prime Minister: Helping every child to reach their full potential and closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged young people and their peers is a priority for our education policy. In that respect, the roll-out of children’s centres across the country—there will be 3,500 by 2010—the additional support for families with children, particularly the poorest, and early years intervention, when children are at both pre-nursery and nursery stage, are making a real difference, but I agree that much more needs to be done.

Mr. Allen: The Prime Minister will be aware that for every pound spent on intensive health visiting for the under-twos, £6 is saved on the costs of criminality, disrupted classes, antisocial behaviour and a lifetime on welfare benefits, so will he welcome the initiative being taken not only by Departments but by partners in Nottingham, to bring forward a package of early intervention measures so that we not only break the inter-generational cycle of deprivation, but save the taxpayer billions of pounds?

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The Prime Minister: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to his work and the work that has been done by the city of Nottingham particularly in respect of early intervention for families who are disadvantaged or in difficulty. He is right to say that the more we invest in the early stage, the better the return for the whole country later in life. As a result of the new measures we introduced and announced a couple of weeks ago, we will have the ability, especially through the focused work of health visitors and others, to make sure that children who really need help early in life, and the families who need help, receive it. As a result, as my hon. Friend rightly says, when we are also encouraging families to get off benefit and into work, we will make a real difference to child poverty in this country.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Prime Minister consider commissioning reports and investigations into early interventions and the potential link between suffering from dyslexia and criminality later in life? Is he aware that there is a unique pilot scheme in Chelmsford prison that has identified that more than 50 per cent. of prisoners suffer from dyslexia? Help is being provided in the prison to allow them to overcome or minimise their problems, but there is no help once they leave prison, which could lead to ongoing problems and a return to criminality.

The Prime Minister: The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is good and valid. The Government are now looking at the links with some learning disabilities—dyslexia is an obvious one. He is absolutely right to say that many of those people in the prison population have not had the educational opportunities—often because they are dyslexic, have not been diagnosed properly and have not got the extra help that they need. We are looking specifically at how the early intervention programmes help those people. He is absolutely right in what he says, and when we have the results of the investigation that we are carrying out at the moment we will of course share them with the House.


Q3. [138664] Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 23 May.

The Prime Minister: Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will once again wish to join me in sending our profound sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Corporal Jeremy Brookes of 4th Battalion the Rifles, who was killed in Iraq this week by a terrorist bomb. He and others before him died working towards a safer, more secure world and we pay tribute to him.

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.

Mr. Grogan: I am sure that the whole House wants to be associated with the Prime Minister’s remarks.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me, and indeed with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, that lobbying firms such as Bell Pottinger and DLA Piper that do not sign up to the industry’s voluntary
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ethical code of standards, which requires transparency in regard to all clients, should seriously consider doing so?

The Prime Minister: As I understand it, this is an area that the Public Administration Committee is going to look at. We will of course pay careful attention to the study that it undertakes and to the conclusions that it comes to.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Jeremy Brookes and I also pay tribute to Lance Corporal George Davey, who died after a tragic accident at a British base in Afghanistan.

With more than 40 maternity units under threat in the NHS, including five in Greater Manchester, would the Prime Minister advise the next Prime Minister to stop the closure programme and think again?

The Prime Minister: I certainly would not advise stopping a change programme that is absolutely necessary in order to provide the best care for patients. Part of that will of course involve more specialist services, whereby those who need specialist help get it and those who do not need it get a more routine service. That is entirely sensible. It is being clinically driven. We are actually putting more money into maternity services in Manchester and elsewhere.

Let me just point out to the right hon. Gentleman two reports that came out within the last week. First, the Healthcare Commission reported that 90 per cent. of patients said that the health care that they received inside the NHS was “excellent” or “good”. Secondly, there is the international survey that ranks the UK’s NHS top, ahead of Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States of America. One of the reasons for that is the investment that we put in, which he opposed, and the other reason is the necessary changes, which he is now also opposing.

Mr. Cameron: So let us be absolutely clear: the closure programme is continuing—that is what we have learned—even though deputy leadership candidates are appearing on picket lines and objecting and even though the former chairman of the British Medical Association says that morale in the NHS is at a 30-year low. Across the country, accident and emergency departments are under threat, including five in London. Will the Prime Minister advise the next Prime Minister to stop that closure programme?

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