Previous Section Index Home Page

12 Nov 2007 : Column 396

On raising the participation age, I should say that, as the Secretary of State has said today, it is important that people understand that we are not talking about raising the school leaving age. It is perfectly in order for people to leave school at 16 and go to work, as long as they carry on training. Indeed, it would be in order for them to do voluntary work, as long as they carried on for the equivalent of a day a week in training, which would be provided by the likes of Exmouth college, other training providers and 14-to-19 partnerships. I am sure that there are some excellent ones in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): If my hon. Friend thinks that the fast-track programme for promoting gifted young teachers into headships fast is so good—and everyone who has done it says that it is—why are the Government cutting it back and taking the most expensive residential elements out of it?

Jim Knight: Naturally, I listen carefully to the concerns of my hon. Friend, who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, and I shall talk to him further. Fast Track Teaching is an important scheme, as are Future Leaders and Teach First; all work extremely well. We are now expanding Teach First into Manchester and the black country because it has been working so successfully. I look forward to continued conversations with my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his appointment to the new Select Committee.

T7. [161999] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Why, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, do more children now attend private schools than had recently been the case? Does he think that more parents are trying to buy privilege by sending their children to private schools, such as the ones that he, the deputy leader of the Labour party and I attended, or does he think that, notwithstanding the excellent work done by huge numbers of teachers in our schools, there is a lack of confidence among parents about the standard of education that children are receiving under this Government?

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): The opposite is true. A study published today by Keele university shows that nine out of 10 parents are happy with their children’s schools. Peak attendance at private schools, as a share of all schools, was in 1990. It is true that private school attendance has risen in the past few years; that tends to happen when the economy is doing as well as it has been. However, the vast majority of young people are in state schools. As I said earlier, the percentage of A-level A-grade passes obtained by state school pupils is rising, not falling. People will look at that and say that a state school education is not only the majority option, but increasingly the best option for young people.

12 Nov 2007 : Column 397

Points of Order

3.35 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your guidance on a point of order of which I have given you notice. Last week, you issued some helpful guidance and advice to the House on various matters. Would you consider also giving guidance and advice on the working of Select Committees? It has always been my understanding that Select Committees are for holding the Government to account. I think that you would agree that it would be preposterous if the Foreign Secretary, who is due to address us in a few minutes, suddenly became the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

This morning, I received a note—doubtless other Members did, too—that stated that on Wednesday the Modernisation Committee is to hear evidence from the Leader of the House. It may not have escaped your notice that the Chairman of that Committee is the Leader of the House. That is preposterous and absurd, and I ask you to give careful thought to whether we should take possession of all Select Committees.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a member of the Modernisation Committee, I believe that the evidence to be given it by the Leader of the House will be helpful. Furthermore, the Committee will be in very good hands, as I shall be chairing it.

Mr. Speaker: As usual, the hon. Gentleman has been very helpful indeed. I was going to suggest that of course a Chairman of a Select Committee can give evidence, because a Select Committee is there not only for the purpose of calling the Executive to account but for the working of this House. Select Committees such as the Modernisation Committee and the Administration Committee seek to improve the facilities of the House. As Sir Nicholas said, we have a very capable Vice-Chairman
12 Nov 2007 : Column 398
who will take the Chair and allow the Leader of the House to give evidence. That is a very good arrangement indeed; I see nothing wrong with it at all.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware of the league table that has been compiled by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) showing the very wide variation in departmental substantive answers to written questions? Whereas some Departments, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, give more than 80 per cent. of substantive answers on the due date for a named day question, the Ministry of Defence is the worst of the lot, with only 22 per cent. One of the answers that I received recently was to a question asking the Ministry of Defence whether, when it responds to an hon. Member by referring them to a previous written answer to another hon. Member’s question, it would make it its policy to include a copy of that answer in with its reply. The reply to that was one word: “No.” Is there any reason you can think of for this discourtesy to hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker: I am not responsible for these matters. As for league tables, I am not particularly interested in those.

Bill Presented

National Insurance Contributions

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Hain, Andy Burnham, Jane Kennedy, Angela Eagle and Kitty Ussher, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the upper earnings limit for national insurance contributions (including in particular provision about the upper accrual point): And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 7].

12 Nov 2007 : Column 399

Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fourth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 November],

Foreign Affairs and Defence

3.37 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I consider it an enormous privilege to open today’s debate as Foreign Secretary. My purpose is to set out how the Government will engage abroad to help to build security and prosperity at home.

Today, I laid a wreath and led a service of remembrance in the Foreign Office to remember those members of our staff who have been killed in the line of duty, including two in the past year. It is therefore appropriate that I use this debate to recognise the dedication, bravery and skill of Britain’s diplomats, armed forces and aid workers around the world, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in doing so.

Members in all parts of the House agreed last Wednesday that Pakistan must be close to the centre of our foreign policy concerns. I am sure that the House will therefore understand if I start with the crisis in that country. I will not rehearse the proximate causes of the crisis nor our short-term aims and objectives—clarity about free and fair elections, General Musharraf’s resignation as head of the army, restoration of media freedoms, and release of political prisoners—but I spoke yesterday and this morning to our high commissioner in Islamabad, and this is the current position.

The commitment of General Musharraf to elections by 9 January is welcome. Less welcome, however, is the lack of clarity on when the state of emergency will end. Current conditions stand in the way of free and fair elections, and there are mixed signals about the amendment to the Army Act, which allows civilians to be court-martialled, primarily for terrorist charges. This lack of progress on the position of political prisoners, which I discussed with leading human rights campaigner Hina Jalani in London last week, is a major concern for all friends of Pakistan. I am sure the whole House will also deplore the deportation of three British journalists and continuing restrictions on media freedom.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied with the operation of the entry clearance system in Islamabad during the crisis? I have had representations
12 Nov 2007 : Column 400
from constituents who have been unable to get visitor visas while the situation is ongoing. Is he arranging for any further help to be given, resources-wise, to help the entry clearance operation?

David Miliband: Yes, I am confident that processes are being taken forward with normal speed. If my right hon. Friend wants me to look at a particular case, I shall of course do so. I visited the visa centre last July and saw the work that is going on to deliver 200,000 visitor visas a year with a 24-hour turnaround. I am happy to take up individual cases, but as far as I know from discussions with the high commission, there are not any problems.

The House will agree that the best interests of Pakistan—its security and development—are served by a managed transition to democratic rule, with elections that are genuinely free and fair and allow the voice of the moderate majority to be heard. There is also a Commonwealth dimension. Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and I, as well as the Secretary of State for International Development, will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala next week. Today, the Commonwealth ministerial action group will meet to discuss Pakistan.

The focus of the Commonwealth conference will be on broader issues of governance, democracy, climate change and the millennium development goals. It is right that the issue of Pakistan is on the agenda for the Commonwealth conference, and if there is no progress on the current position the Commonwealth will have to look at all available options, including suspension, as we discussed last week. The Commonwealth ministerial action group will consider the situation today and take stock, pending the discussion by leaders next week.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): As I recall, the ground rules for membership of the Commonwealth that are enshrined in the Harare declaration mean that a dictatorship cannot be a member of the Commonwealth—or at least, that such a state must be suspended from it. At what point will the British Foreign Secretary deem that the line has been crossed so that we must consider suspension of a state from the Commonwealth?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clear rules were set out in, ironically, Harare. In 2002, we showed that suspension is a tool to be used, and Zimbabwe was expelled from the Commonwealth. We have to judge each case against the criteria as it comes up, but I assure my hon. Friend that matters will be properly dealt with.

The crisis in Pakistan raises many of the central questions facing UK foreign policy. I want to address, first, democracy building and the rule of law, especially the situation in Iraq and the middle east; secondly, counter-terrorism, especially the situation in Afghanistan, which is a key test for the future of NATO; and thirdly, nuclear proliferation, especially the position of Iran. I will then address the important legislation we will consider on the future of the European Union and its institutions.

12 Nov 2007 : Column 401

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): With those important considerations, is the Secretary of State not concerned that Lord Malloch-Brown has been described by Foreign Office officials in the newspapers over the weekend as a liability? The Prime Minister actually said, in The Spectator and The Times, that had he known it would have caused such a fuss, he would not have appointed him at all.

David Miliband: Lord Malloch-Brown is an experienced diplomat with a huge amount to offer to British foreign policy, and he has an important contribution to make in his work on Asia and Africa. He has already shown in his work on Darfur and Zimbabwe that his experience can be put to very good effect, and I suggest that we judge the noble Lord by his actions, which will show excellence, rather than by rumours that concern the past.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has said that Lord Malloch-Brown is an experienced politician—

David Miliband: An experienced diplomat.

Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for assisting me even further with the question that will follow. Given that Lord Malloch-Brown is such an experienced diplomat, why has the Foreign Secretary had to reprimand him for describing Burma by a term acknowledged by the United Nations, but not by Britain?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman takes the proceedings of this House and the other place very seriously. I am sorry that he did not look at the debate to which he referred. On more than 10 occasions in that debate—

Mr. Vara: Answer the question.

David Miliband: I am about to answer the question. On multiple occasions, the noble Lord referred to Burma, which is exactly how we do it, and on one occasion he referred to Myanmar. The noble Lord will make a major contribution to British foreign policy, his experience will be put to good effect and I suggest that we deal with actions rather than words.

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: I am happy to take further interventions, but I suggest that there are major issues that we want to get stuck into during this debate.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): As we are talking about the competence of lords, will the Foreign Secretary say what happened to Lord Drayson, who until last Wednesday was due to open a debate on the very subject we are talking about? I understand he then got into his car and disappeared. Would the Secretary of State explain exactly what happened to him? Why did he depart so quickly?

David Miliband: No, I am not able to shed light on those matters. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can take his questions about Lord Drayson elsewhere.

12 Nov 2007 : Column 402

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): The Foreign Secretary talked about liabilities. What role does he believe Baroness Vadera played in closing down the Defence Export Services Organisation?

David Miliband: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to address that question to other quarters. Baroness Vadera is making a major contribution in the Department for International Development and I suggest that we allow her to get on with it.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): I just want to inform my right hon. Friend that I have had a very constructive meeting with Lord Malloch-Brown. I went to see him precisely because of his extensive knowledge of Africa and his role with the UN. I think he will prove an invaluable Minister.

On the issue of Pakistan, will my right hon. Friend confirm our position with respect to continuing to fund the Pakistani Government and the development of their systems and democratisation process?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. As I explained to the House last week, we are determined that no actions that we take could hurt the people of Pakistan. The focus of our development aid on health and on education is widely supported across the House, as is the funding that we are giving for free and fair elections. This is certainly not the time to withdraw that aid.

I said that I would address first the situation in Iraq and the middle east peace process. The decision to go to war divided the country, but nearly five years on from the fall of Saddam Hussein, now is the time not for historical reckoning but for practical engagement. Without prejudice to the sincere views about the original decision to invade, now, following unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions and the democratic vote of 11 million Iraqis, we have the chance to unite around the vision of an Iraq proceeding step by step to self-government on the basis of better security, stronger economic development and enhanced political reconciliation.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was in Iraq last week and he will speak for himself and for the Government later. However, our priorities are clear: to fulfil our obligations to the people of Basra as we move towards Iraqi security control in December; to work with the Government in Baghdad to promote an inclusive political system and culture; to ensure that the terrorism of the PKK is addressed head on in the north of the country in partnership with the Government of Turkey; to support economic reconstruction across Iraq; to engage all the neighbours of Iraq, Sunni and Shi’a, in a shared commitment to stability in the country; and, finally, to rally the international community around the globe behind the goals set out in UN resolution 1770.

Next Section Index Home Page