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What do we need to do? I suggest that four principles should be part of an approach to curing and reversing the decline in social mobility. First, we must help to equip people with the ability to help themselves. Let us not tie people up in the benefits system and withdrawal rates, with disincentives to work and prosper. Let us get rid of some of the complexity of benefits, which are a great disincentive to people trying out different ways of getting back into the labour market. For example, people might fear that their housing benefit will be withdrawn, and the fuss of reapplying for it makes looking for work not worth while.

Let us recognise that money is not the only dimension of poverty and that people who become trapped in poverty, particularly severe poverty, face multiple aspects of social deprivation, which need sensitive handling and which are not all susceptible to the cure of financial transfers.

Let us look not just to the state, but to local communities, in the way that the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Let us apply the subsidiarity principle and bring in local charities and voluntary groups, which often have a personalised approach that it is difficult for the state to recognise. I was disturbed to read that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), who has responsibility for the third sector, had given an assurance to Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, that voluntary organisations would be limited to the role of supporting the state and would not be able to substitute for it. In some cases, it is appropriate for voluntary organisations to substitute in the delivery of a service if they are better placed to do so. It constrains our ability to tackle social exclusion if we artificially constrain the sector.

Finally, I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about assets. It must be part of our agenda to allow people to build up a buffer of savings and financial assets to protect them through the ups and downs that we all face in our lives. They must also be able to build up assets that are substantial enough to allow them to own their own homes and to be prosperous not only in work, but in retirement. We need to address that.

I hope that progressive politics will be a matter of consensus between the parties over the weeks ahead. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, being progressive is not just about having aspirations, and the right hon. Gentleman made some very practical suggestions in that regard, to which I hope that the Minister will able to respond positively. More importantly, I hope that the new Prime Minister will be able to respond positively, so perhaps the right hon. Member for Darlington should sit by his phone tomorrow to see whether the Prime Minister is willing to take up his suggestions.

10.48 am

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Paddy Tipping): I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) on his robust speech, which was designed to provoke and to bring about change and action. I have had the benefit of reading the speeches that he has been making for a couple of years now, including the
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Deborah Leon memorial lecture of November 2003 and last month’s 2020 vision for British Government lecture at the university of Durham, and I should say how impressed I was with his account of Government policy failure in Benwell in west Newcastle. There is a lot to be learned from having stable, long-term policies. There was a lot of substance in my right hon. Friend’s speech. He has never been accused of spin, but I note that the “Today” programme is running a series of features on social mobility this week, and I am sure that it is coincidental that only yesterday the Sutton Trust produced its report on social immobility in schools, and the failure of schools, which has been discussed, to tackle the greatest disadvantage. His speech had substance, was timely and topical, and was designed to encourage wider debate.

I confess that I am here in a jobbing role today. My colleagues in Government with responsibility for the matters in question have shown their own mobility. I apologise for that, but it gives me an opportunity—not to talk about the detail of policy, but to pick up some of the wider issues. I want to say from the outset that I am a child of the same times as my right hon. Friend. I, too, come from a family with strengths and weaknesses. We lived on a council estate. I was the first person in my family to get a degree and the first to have a professional career; it has gone downhill since then.

My right hon. Friend was right to stress the post-war achievements of the Labour Government—universal health provision, full employment, the welfare state and full-time education until the age of 15. That period broke down the social class system, there was greater consumer choice and there were opportunities for people to go further. As he said, the children of the ’70s have suffered. One suggestion to come out of the recent report was that that decline has now finished: that we have levelled up and could go forward. Of course, the Government have things to be proud of, such as the fact that 600,000 children have been taken out of poverty, and 1 million pensioner households have been taken out of relative poverty. More people than ever are in work. We have already discussed the point about the incomes of the 20 per cent. of people on the lowest income rising faster than those in the top 20 per cent. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) was right to counsel that studying the lowest percentage group reveals problems; that is why the social exclusion task force has been commissioned to study the problem and make proposals for change. We need to be honest; meeting our child poverty targets will not be easy. Taking people out of energy poverty when energy prices are going up is quite challenging. I am struck by Government’s willingness these days to acknowledge the problem, and not to try to spin it away, but to present new proposals to deal with the change.

I want to focus on four aspects of the matter raised by my right hon. Friend. The first is the importance of employment in tackling social mobility. Unemployment in May 1997 was 1.6 million and today it is 890,000—a 45 per cent. reduction. In Darlington, unemployment has been reduced by 52 per cent. In my constituency of Sherwood it has halved. In Tunbridge Wells, it is down by 56 per cent. However, it is important, as has been stressed in the debate, to focus on groups of people who are presently unemployed. We have talked about the
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needs of black and Asian people. We need to consider the kind of work that they are undertaking, its value and the pay that they receive. We also need to pay attention, as has been said, to the people who are not in work, and the number on incapacity benefit. We must show real determination to lift 1 million people from incapacity benefit and back into work. We need to work on the pathfinder model. It is expensive, but in the long term, if we are successful, savings can be made down the line. I want to reinforce the old Beveridge tradition, which has been a strand in the debate: work for those who can, security for those who cannot.

My right hon. Friend also talked about the big skills agenda. We live in a global world. As the Leitch report says, unless we skill and reskill, we shall be economically disadvantaged. I find it astonishing that there is a variable pattern in the creation of new businesses across the country. In Wokingham, there are four times more new business start-ups than in Worksop in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. One of the things that we must do is encourage entrepreneurial behaviour, whether in business or in the wider social setting—a point already made by my right hon. Friend. We must persuade ordinary working-class people to have wider perspectives and higher aspirations.

To come to the second issue that my right hon. Friend raised, we have all talked about the value of early years education. All three and four-year-olds who want a nursery place have one. The Sure Start scheme is a flagship project, and there will be a children’s centre in every community. As well as providing universal services Sure Start needs to ensure that those who are most disadvantaged will benefit from those services. That will take subtlety and skill. We can take things further with nurse family partnerships and the incredible years programme. We need to focus on children and their families.

Thirdly, we need to make sure that people really have the assets that my right hon. Friend has talked about. I know that there are problems with child trust funds, or baby bonds, as they are called, but they are a vehicle—an example of investing in young people—that will provide long-term solutions. It is also important to provide
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decent housing for all. It cannot be right that young entrants are dependent on help from their parents to acquire property. We need to build more houses. We need to be clear, as the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells knows, about where we should build those houses; and we need to build the right kind of houses, which will meet people’s needs. They need to be smaller, more sustainable houses, near urban centres, not big, ranch-style houses in the countryside.

Fourthly, we need to transfer power. I am struck, as I go round the country, by the fact that people know the problems in their community, and often know the solutions, too. We should listen to those people and trust them. That requires a radical devolution of resources and decision making. Like my right hon. Friend, I have closely studied what the Chancellor, the next Prime Minister, is saying about those issues. It must be right that people in Darlington can provide different services from those provided in, say, Devizes; and that those in Nottingham can provide different ones from those in Newcastle. We must trust people, consider grass roots experience, identify and develop good practice, and give public services back to local people. Public services will survive only if they are owned by local people. That is a big challenge and we should take it forward.

There are tests for the Conservative Opposition in what I have said. There has been consensus in the debate, but there are tests, too. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells needs to commit himself to full employment, flexible policies for families, universal child care and its costs, and education for all rather than selection for a few in grammar schools—looking to the future, not the past. The debate has provided a platform for further discussion of the issue of an action plan on social mobility. I cannot promise it, but at least it is on the agenda. This discussion is about not just policies and priorities, but politics. People from the coalfield communities that I represent have always aspired to better for their children and grandchildren. It is a universal sentiment. We must be ambitious and aspirational. Politics, for all parties, will survive only if we are in a position to promise for the future, not look to the past, and to present policies for the many, not the few.

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Extraordinary Rendition

11 am

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I shall give the Minister a second to settle in. I gather that he has just got back from Washington, so I am very grateful that he is here. I am not a human rights expert or a lawyer; I am a libertarian, and that is where my interest in this subject stems from. When I first got into Parliament, a decade ago, it never crossed my mind that I would ask for a debate on this issue, but then it never crossed my mind that Britain’s leading ally, probably with the complicity of many western powers, including, perhaps, Britain, would develop a global programme of kidnap and torture. If someone had told me in 1997 that within a few years the United States would be arranging the torture of people and imprisoning large numbers of them in an illegal, offshore black hole for years on end, I simply would not have believed them.

It was Guantánamo that first led me to look into rendition. As a consequence of tabling many parliamentary questions to try to establish the limit of Britain’s involvement in Guantánamo, the practice of extraordinary rendition was brought to my attention—first, as a consequence of some remarks made to me by a high-quality investigative journalist, Stephen Grey, who has since written a book on the subject. Shortly afterwards, the practice was again brought to my attention by an official who must remain anonymous.

Before I go any further, I must define some terms. What is extraordinary rendition? Rendition generally means the transfer of someone from one country to another outside all judicial or administrative due process. In that sense, it is not new: it has been practised and will continue to be practised between countries that do not have extradition agreements to cover such cases. Neither is it always wrong—Carlos the Jackal was rendered. Historically, many such renditions could be considered renditions to justice, as they enabled someone to be brought before a court. A uniquely pernicious aspect of the recent renditions, often called extraordinary renditions, is that their primary purpose is to keep those who are being transferred from justice. Worse still, a further purpose in many cases appears to have been to transfer those people to a place where they can be tortured.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I was pleased to accompany the hon. Gentleman to Washington and New York, last December, to meet several Administration officials and others to discuss these very issues. Does he agree that apart from extraordinary renditions being morally wrong, they are wholly counter-productive given the efforts of this country and others to tackle global terrorism?

Mr. Tyrie: I completely agree; indeed, it was a central point that we both made to a number of people in the US Administration and on Capitol Hill, where we found wide agreement right across the party political spectrum—contrary to the impression that one might gain from UK press reports.

On the basis of extensive evidence, albeit much of anecdotal, it seems that many people—possibly several hundred—have been kidnapped in this way and taken
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to countries such as Syria, Egypt and Morocco, where a number of them have been horrifically tortured. That has all been planned and implemented by US personnel with assistance from several western and middle-eastern allies. I have been appalled by what I have uncovered in the past few years.

In December 2005, I set up the all-party group on extraordinary rendition with the help of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who was subsequently replaced when he was elevated to his current position, by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). We have had three main objectives throughout, the first of which is to bring these disgusting practices to wider public attention. The second is to do whatever we can to ensure that the UK is not involved in rendition. The third is to do what we can, however little, to persuade the US Administration to desist from the practice.

We have gathered a lot of information in support of the first objective. We have taken evidence from many lawyers who represent detainees who have been rendered, and from their relatives. Some of the accounts of their treatment are truly horrific. I do not intend to go through them all in detail, but it is important that people get a grasp of the scale of the problem. When one hears credible accounts of a British resident begging for mercy as his penis is cut with a razor, one gets a sense of what the innocuous phrase “extraordinary rendition” really means. An unnamed CIA operative was quoted in The Washington Post as saying:

With others, the all-party group has given greater public prominence to what has been going on, and we have tried to bring pressure to bear on several specific cases, including those of Benyam Mohammed and Bisher al-Rawi. Several MPs, some of whom might speak today, have worked tirelessly for the families of people who have been rendered, and I congratulate them on their work.

On the second objective—UK involvement—despite numerous requests from me and others, we have been unable to persuade the Government to condemn extraordinary rendition. In like fashion, the Government refused to condemn Guantánamo for years, but finally did so in 2006 as a consequence of pressure from the Law Officers. I do not want to live in a country whose Government choke at condemning kidnap and torture.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): May I challenge that? I think that I was the first Minister to condemn Guantánamo Bay in the Chamber of the House of Commons, and I cannot recall ever in my career in this place any Law Officer putting pressure on me about anything. I did it for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given: because it is counter-productive to the fight against terrorism. I am sure that many of our colleagues in this House would condemn it for the very same reasons.

Mr. Tyrie: I congratulate the Minister on that. Did he do it before or after the Law Officers’ speeches declaring that it was illegal?

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Dr. Howells: I cannot remember any Law Officers’ speeches. There might have been some, but I was not made aware of them. I made my speech of my own volition.

Mr. Tyrie: I note the sense of joined-up government that that reply implies.

In at least one case, that of Bisher al-Rawi, the UK security authorities appear to have been directly implicated in rendition. That case has yet to be investigated properly. I shall say more on UK involvement later but, first, I shall return to what I was saying about trying to persuade the US on this subject. As the hon. Member for North Norfolk pointed out, we went to Washington, with Mark Pallis, who is an extremely knowledgeable legal adviser to the all-party group, and met Condoleezza Rice’s chief legal counsel, John Bellinger, and many other people in the National Security Council and on Capitol Hill. I was heartened that so many of those people find this practice as repugnant as we do. Indeed, a good number of them agreed with what the Minister just said, that Guantánamo Bay is counter-productive, and were prepared to tell us privately that they think that rendition is as well.

It is important to understand that rendition has not come as a bolt from the blue, but is part of a revolution in US foreign policy under George Bush that has made the whole of the west less secure. I shall say a few words on that subject at the end of my speech if I have time.

When I first expressed concern about the issue in the autumn of 2005, I was repeatedly challenged to provide evidence; by implication, the challenges suggested that there was no evidence and that the matter had been got up by a press brouhaha. Much remains to come out, but the existence of the practice whereby people have been kidnapped and taken to places where they may be tortured has now been confirmed by President George Bush, Condoleeza Rice and numerous CIA officers.

That comes on top of overwhelming evidence from a number of specific cases, such as those of Maher Arar. He is a Canadian who was detained in New York before being sent to Syria to be tortured. That created such a massive scandal in Canada that, after his release, the Canadian Government were forced to launch an investigation, after which they paid Canadian $10 million in damages for their complicity in his kidnap. Khaled Masri, a German citizen, was the subject of a Bundestag inquiry. He was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia and rendered to Afghanistan, where he was badly maltreated for several months in the so-called dark prison in Kabul. Abu Omar was kidnapped in Milan and transported to Egypt. His case is sub judice in Italy, I believe.

When challenged on extraordinary rendition, the US Administration qualify their admissions in several important ways. First, they challenge the allegation that they transfer people for the purpose of torture. Looked at closely, this is nothing more than legal obfuscation. The US does not want to be in breach of the UN convention on torture, which prohibits rendition

a person

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