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13 Jun 2007 : Column 748

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Given the centrality of reproductive health and family planning issues to DFID’s new health strategy, published this week, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of new funding commitments to reproductive health commodities at the G8?

Hilary Benn: Let me say to my hon. Friend, who does a great deal of work on those issues, that the increased commitments to the fight against HIV and AIDS are significant, because AIDS is an epidemic that now affects women and young girls in sub-Saharan Africa more than anyone else—approximately three quarters of young people who live with HIV and AIDS are women and girls. Making reproductive health services available to them, including condoms, other means of protection, and more information so that they have greater control over their lives and their bodies is essential if we are to win that fight.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Does the Secretary of State understand and appreciate the deep concerns of non-governmental organisations, the aid community and campaigners about the announcements in Germany? Does he agree that it does the G8 no credit to indulge in creative accounting when presenting its new aid package for the developed world?

Hilary Benn: I do not agree because I do not believe that that was a case of creative accounting. The first thing that the G8 summit did was to reconfirm the commitments that were made at Gleneagles. Genuine progress has been made on debt cancellation—that should be acknowledged—and global aid to Africa increased last year. The hon. Gentleman and the NGO community need to recognise that. The most important aspect of the summit was that countries agreed to specify how the increased aid will be spent, especially for the fight against HIV and AIDS. The American Administration announced a significant increase in their spending through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—PEPFAR—programme. There is a long way to go, but when progress happens, it is right to acknowledge it.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend believe that the G8 decisions will have a genuine impact on development—or, perhaps more accurately, de-development—in the Palestinian territories? Does he share my concern about the violence that currently engulfs Gaza and parts of the west bank, which is born of despair, itself born of the blockade of many months—some would say years? Will he assure me that, as well as putting money into those areas, the policies of the Government and the international community will support rather than undermine the democratic institutions of the Palestinian territories that we helped to create?

Hilary Benn: I say to my hon. Friend, who works hard in support of an agreement in the middle east, that the Palestinian people are already among the most heavily aided people on earth. Their condition is desperate because of a failure of politics. I share his concern about the current violence, which is engulfing Gaza in particular. It offers no way forward for the
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Palestinians. Progress will be made only if people commit to a peace process, recognise each other and are prepared to sit down and negotiate the agreement, which, as everybody acknowledges, must be reached to enable the people of Israel and the people of Palestine to live in safety and security alongside each other.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): On aid, does the Secretary of State understand the irritation that many feel about the smoke-and-mirrors way in which the G8 presents the figures for aid? People want to know how much each country gives and when it gives it so that they can hold their leaders to account for their promises. Secondly, they want to know that the money genuinely reaches the people at the end of the track, who do not have basic health care, a school to attend, clean water or sanitation. How will he bring transparency and accountability to the promises?

Hilary Benn: The best way in which we can do that is, first, through the United Kingdom keeping its promises—that is exactly what we are doing—because leading by example is the greatest contribution that we can make. Secondly, we can examine the figures that the OECD Development Assistance Committee publishes. That tells us all about the progress that individual countries are making in keeping their commitments. Thirdly, we should support those who continue to campaign to ensure that Governments throughout the world keep their promises, and then ensure that the right mechanisms are in place so that the money helps the people for whom it was intended.

World Bank

5. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): What recent proposals he has made for reforming the World Bank; and if he will make a statement. [142240]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The World Bank plays an important part in tackling global poverty. It has many strengths but must reform if it is to respond to a changing world. Its priorities should be: providing more long-term, predictable funding for developing countries; finding better ways in which to assist middle-income countries; helping to tackle climate change; giving developing countries a greater say in its decisions; and continuing to change its use of conditionality.

Malcolm Bruce: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and I agree with him. However, does he agree— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please allow the hon. Gentleman to be heard.

Malcolm Bruce: In the light of the nomination by the United States of Robert Zoelleck to be the next president of the World Bank, does the Secretary of State agree that as long as the Americans have the gift of the presidency as their prerogative, the poor of the world will have little confidence that the bank’s overriding objective is to reduce poverty rather than to further the influence of the US or any other developed nation?

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Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be better if we had a different system for agreeing the president of the World Bank and the person in charge of the International Monetary Fund. That is the position of the UK Government, but we can make a change only if there is a consensus to make a change, and there is not. Having met Robert Zoelleck, the nominee, on Monday this week, I must say that my discussion with him gives me a great deal of confidence that he has the interests of the World Bank at heart and understands the nature of the challenge he faces if his appointment is confirmed by the World Bank board next week. We intend to work with whoever is ultimately appointed to ensure that the World Bank continues to play a really important role in overcoming global poverty.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [142221] Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 13 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, I must ask the House once again to join me in sending profound condolences to the families and friends of the soldiers who have fallen in the last week. Lance-Corporal Paul Sandford from 1st Battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters and Guardsman Neil Downes from 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards were killed in Afghanistan, where our troops are performing a magnificent and heroic job in fighting the Taliban. Our condolences also go to the family and friends of Corporal Rodney Wilson from 4th Battalion the Rifles, who was killed last week in Iraq on a search and detention patrol. As the House may know, he showed immense bravery under fire to help his colleagues. We pay tribute to all of them, and to those who are still serving our armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I am sure the whole House will also wish to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of PC Jon Henry, who was killed on duty on Monday. His death highlights the dangers that our police officers face every day in their task of protecting the public. We send our profound condolences to his family also.

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. Starkey: May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s expressions of condolence?

Last week, figures were released for March on the percentage of NHS hospital patients treated within 18 weeks of GP referral. Milton Keynes general hospital in my constituency was among the top 10 hospital trusts in the country, with 73 per cent. of patients treated within 18 weeks. That is obviously a credit to the hard work of the hospital staff, but also to this Government’s investment in new buildings, extra operating theatres and more doctors and nurses . The Prime Minister will know that Milton Keynes is continuing to deliver
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high housing growth. Can he assure me that NHS funding will continue to reflect that population growth so that waiting times at Milton Keynes can improve still further?

The Prime Minister: First, I add my congratulations to the Milton Keynes general hospital on the outstanding work that its staff are doing to ensure that more than 70 per cent. of patients are seen within 18 weeks. As we can see from the waiting times and waiting list figures today, the 18 weeks is not based just on the old in-patient list, as it includes the out-patient, diagnostic treatment as well as in-patient treatment. The 18 weeks figure, relating to all of that, is a magnificent achievement, and we are en route to 18 weeks as the maximum, door to door, from GP to operation, for everyone in the country by the end of next year. That will effectively mean the end of waiting as we know it in the national health service. It is of enormous importance to the country and it is, of course, a great tribute to those working in the NHS.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lance-Corporal Paul Sandford, Corporal Rodney Wilson and Guardsman Neil Downes, who died serving their country. I also endorse what the Prime Minister said about the dedication and commitment of PC Jonathan Henry. We all send our heartfelt condolence and sympathy to his young family.

For months, the Government have been briefing the tabloid newspapers that they would introduce Sarah’s law. The headlines reported “stunning victory” and that Sarah’s law would “start in months”. This afternoon, the Home Secretary will announce that Sarah’s law will not be introduced. Is the Prime Minister at all surprised that the press are cynical about his Government?

The Prime Minister: What we said was that we would investigate the possibility of greater disclosure. We have indeed investigated that, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make his announcement later today. We are proposing that there will be circumstances in which, for the first time, members of the public will have the right to request details of possible sex offenders. It is true that this does not go as far as what is currently happening in the United States of America, but it is a change in practice. It is sensible to take this a step at a time, and also to see how it works in practice. It is important that, at the same time as doing everything that we can to protect young people against sex offenders, we also ensure that we protect the proper liberties of people in this country.

Mr. Cameron: I have to say to the Prime Minister that he knows exactly what his Government were doing, and he knows exactly how disgraceful it can be. I have to tell him that they are at it again today. The headlines of the tabloids today are screaming out about “chemical castration for paedophiles”, but if we listen to what the Home Secretary said on the radio, it is about giving a few of them Prozac pills. Let us look at something that would really make a difference in terms of stopping sex offenders preying on children. After the dreadful Soham murders, there was the Bichard report, which recommended a system for the police to
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share information so that we could stop more sex offenders more quickly. The Home Secretary said that that information-sharing system would be ready this year. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether that promise will be kept?

The Prime Minister: First, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what Sara Payne said about what the Home Secretary is going to announce— [ Interruption. ] I do not think that it is wrong to discuss this with somebody who, for very obvious reasons, has a particular interest in what we are about to do. She said:

to details about paedophiles—

This has also been welcomed by Dame Mary Marsh, the director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. So it is a sensible, worthwhile step forward. As for the measures that were recommended by the Bichard inquiry, it is precisely for that reason that we have systems that share information far better. What we are trying to do all the time, however, is to improve this in the light of experience. We will continue to do that, but we have acted on the recommendations in the Bichard report.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister has completely failed to answer the question. The fact is that the Home Secretary told us that the system would be in place this year, and it is not going to be. Is that not completely typical of the way in which this Government operate? Initiatives that are never going to happen are endlessly spun to the media, but when it comes to serious measures that would really help to protect our children from sex offenders, this Government are completely incompetent at introducing them. Will the Prime Minister confirm today that the full system of information sharing recommended by Bichard will not be introduced for another three years, until at least 2010—yes or no?

The Prime Minister: We are building up the system of sharing information—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] It has to be done in a way that is careful to protect the interests of everyone concerned. The right hon. Gentleman says that we have done nothing about sex offences, but let me just remind him that the Sex Offences Act 2003 created and redefined more than 50 sex offences and set tough new maximum sentences. We set up the sex offenders register. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows us, for the first time, to give indeterminate sentences for the most dangerous, violent or sexual offenders. What did the right hon. Gentleman do when that Act came before Parliament? He voted against it. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It is true. This is the single most important thing that we can do. For the first time, we can keep those who are a threat to the public behind bars—but when it came to the tough decision, he ducked it.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): With reference to what the Leader of the Opposition has just said about press coverage, why did my right hon. Friend pull his punches when speaking about the press yesterday? Is he not aware that, over these years,
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a huge proportion of the press coverage of politics has consisted of fiction, propaganda and gossip— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the right hon. Gentleman speak.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: A serious deterioration in standards has occurred since I worked as a political journalist in the House.

The Prime Minister: Yesterday I made my point in my way. Today my right hon. Friend makes it in his. I do not think that there is anything more to add.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Once again, I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence.

On Monday the Prime Minister told us that the Government were co-operating fully with the OECD inquiry into the Saudi Arabian arms contract. Can he tell us today which Minister is answerable to the House for the decision to withhold information from that inquiry in relation to payments made by the Ministry of Defence to Prince Bandar?

The Prime Minister: First, whether to give the information to the OECD was a decision of the Serious Fraud Office. Let me make it clear that the criticism of the Attorney-General in relation to this matter is completely unfair and wrong. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to blame anyone, he can blame me. I am perfectly happy to take responsibility for it. Let me explain why I gave the advice that I did. First, the allegations are strenuously denied by the Saudi royal family. Secondly— [Interruption.] Well, were we to conduct an investigation into the allegations, which might last two or three years, frankly, I think that it would lead absolutely nowhere. It would, however, lead to the complete wreckage of a relationship that is of fundamental importance to the security of this country, to the state of the middle east and to our relationship with countries in the middle east. That is why I took the decision. I did not regret it then, and I do not regret it now.

Sir Menzies Campbell: If the Prime Minister is taking responsibility, can he tell us what payments have been made since 2002? What did he know about those payments and when did he know it? What legal advice did he take about those payments after the law changed here in 2002? Finally, whatever happened to Robin Cook’s “foreign policy with an ethical dimension”?

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