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Public Expenditure

3. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What public expenditure per person is planned in Northern Ireland in each of the next five years. [161980]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): Government spending plans for Northern Ireland for 2008-09 to 2010-11 were set out in the 2007 comprehensive spending review by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Mr. Bone: I am sure that many Members of the House will welcome the fact that Northern Ireland receives more public expenditure per person than the UK average, but for the past five years that proportion has been declining relatively, whereas Scotland’s has been increasing. What is the Government’s policy towards the relative merits of public expenditure within the union?

Mr. Woodward: Northern Ireland did, indeed, receive a very good settlement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Again, I commend the Finance Minister in
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the new Administration in Northern Ireland for the extremely good way in which he has handled the settlement to ensure that Departments in the new Administration and Executive are able to fulfil their commitments to public services. On the specific question that the hon. Gentleman asks, the budgets are derived from the Barnett formula, which has served the United Kingdom well for 25 years. It is, of course, a needs-based assessment of priorities by the Government for the Administrations, and we believe, as statements made by members of the Executive in Northern Ireland suggest, that the settlement for Northern Ireland for forthcoming years is a fair and just one.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the challenge for Northern Ireland is not over-reliance on public investment but attracting private sector investment, that the historic peace settlement that this Government have introduced has laid the foundations for that and that evidence of this success is the massive increase in house prices in the north over the past two or three years?

Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend makes an important point. First, we must understand that because of 40 years of troubles, it has been difficult to re-engineer the Northern Ireland economy in the way that has happened in the rest of the United Kingdom over the past two or three decades. That is why public expenditure represents about 70 per cent. of Northern Ireland’s economy, which compares with a figure of 41 per cent. in England and stands markedly against 34 per cent. in the Republic. He is right to draw attention to that. The new Administration in Northern Ireland have plenty of scope to regenerate their economy by allowing some of those sectors in the public area to be open to more competition from other areas than they have been in the past decade or two.


4. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What resources have been allocated to the police to help identify those paramilitary groups involved in drug trafficking and selling. [161981]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): May I begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family of Dean Clarke, whose recent tragic death has brought home to all of us the harm that illegal drugs do to families and communities? The Police Service of Northern Ireland will continue to prioritise action against drug dealers and traffickers, irrespective of their background or motivation.

Mr. Crabb: I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that the paramilitary organisations on both sides of the divide that have diversified into drug trafficking, with all the devastating consequences for communities that the trade entails, have largely been able to maintain their political and military structures, which pin down those communities in fear, how concerned is he that a real battle needs to be fought against drugs in Northern Ireland and that it is being lost?

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Paul Goggins: I do not agree that the battle is being lost. Of course, this is a matter of concern to me, whatever the background and whatever organisation is behind the trafficking and selling of drugs on the streets of Northern Ireland, but in fact the number of arrests for drug offences increased by 20 per cent. last year in Northern Ireland and the number of class A drug seizures increased by 58 per cent. This will remain a priority for the police, but, of course, they need the co-operation and help of the community to deal with the problem.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Given that the recent Independent Monitoring Commission report identified a number of paramilitary organisations that have changed the emphasis of their activities from paramilitary to drug dealing—Oglaigh na hEireann, the Continuity Irish Republican Army, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Ulster Defence Association, the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force—and given that the street value of seized drugs in Northern Ireland in 2006-07 amounted to £22.5 million, what prospects does the Minister see for the devolution of policing and criminal justice?

Paul Goggins: I am confident that those in the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland will share my determination to ensure that those who deal in illegal drugs are dealt with, the drugs are seized and they are brought to justice. The hon. Gentleman referred to the seizure last year of some £22 million worth of drugs, and that included a huge seizure of cannabis, the biggest ever in Northern Ireland, which again amply demonstrates the commitment of the police and others to bear down on that form of criminality.

Nuclear Power

5. Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): What discussions he has had with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the proposed development of nuclear power sites in Northern Ireland. [161983]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have had no such discussions, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has consulted widely across the UK, including in Northern Ireland, on whether to give companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations. No decision could be taken to site a nuclear power plant in Northern Ireland without the agreement of the devolved Administration.

Mr. McGrady: I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that the Government chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, endorsed the proposals for five nuclear sites in Northern Ireland, two of them in my constituency? What representation has been made to the Northern Ireland Office by the Executive, and did the Executive make a submission on the issue of nuclear sites to the UK Government before the end of the consultation period on 10 October?

Paul Goggins: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has strategic responsibility for overall energy
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policy across the UK and he has organised two public consultations in Northern Ireland in relation to this question. I assure my hon. Friend that in any event it would require the express agreement of politicians in Northern Ireland before any nuclear power plant could be developed there.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [163656] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 November.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Jake Alderton of 36 Engineer Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan last Friday. He died in a tragic accident doing vital work in the service of our country, and we owe him, and others who have lost their lives, a deep debt of gratitude.

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

Mr. Carmichael: I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will wish to associate themselves with the Prime Minister’s expressions of condolence.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, resulting from the closure of the border between the Gaza strip and Israel, is the most pressing concern to be addressed at the forthcoming conference at Annapolis? Will he make that the UK’s first priority, and will he press the US Government to do the same?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has taken a long-term interest in those matters. The 22 November meetings in Annapolis will be a unique opportunity to move forward the middle east peace process, and to bring together the possibilities for a viable Palestinian state with a safe and secure Israel. I hope that out of those meetings—and we will press for it—under the leadership of President Bush and with 22 Arab states involved, we will find a framework document that can be moved forward over the next year with a view to settling all the outstanding issues.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Gaza—let us not forget the west bank also—and if we can see tangible progress on security, the UK would be prepared to put a $500 million package of aid into the area, so that economic reconstruction can take place. We will call on the rest of the European Union and the US to join us in making it possible to show that prosperity can result from abandoning the violence of the past.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab): I congratulate the Prime Minister and everyone involved in Glasgow’s successful bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth games. Does he agree that that will regenerate the east end of Glasgow in the same way as the 2012 Olympics will
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regenerate the east end of London? Will he therefore liaise with Glasgow city council and the Scottish Executive to ensure that that much needed regeneration does indeed take place?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has also been a prime mover in bringing the Commonwealth games to Glasgow. I also congratulate Glasgow city council, the Scottish Administration and all those who have played a part in securing the Commonwealth games for Glasgow. We now look forward to what I believe could be the best sporting decade in our country’s history. We have the Olympics in 2012 and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014; I would like to see the rugby world cup coming to Britain in 2015, and England will bid for the 2018 World cup. It will be a great sporting decade, and I believe that everybody in our country will wish those proposals well.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in congratulating Glasgow on winning the Commonwealth games. They will be a great success for our whole country. I also join him in paying tribute to Lance Corporal Jake Alderton, who died in Afghanistan on Friday. Our troops there are doing vital work and we all support them.

Four months ago, the Home Secretary was told that thousands of illegal migrant workers had been given clearance to work in sensitive security posts. Why were the public not told?

The Prime Minister: Because the Home Secretary acted immediately. What she did was to put in place the security checks that mean that all new security workers are checked, and that all existing workers are going through checks. The checks will be completed by the end of the year. The Security Industry Authority wrote to employers in the middle of August to tell them that we were stepping up our checks. The checks are moving forward, and the likelihood is that they will be finished by the end of the year. Instead of just talking, she acted.

Mr. Cameron: I did not ask about what the Government did; I asked about what the Home Secretary said. The Prime Minister’s explanation is simply not good enough. People were not told because that would have been politically embarrassing, as the e-mails make clear. The Home Secretary was told that

Her private secretary said that the Home Secretary did not think that

That is why the public were not told. Have not the Government been caught red-handed putting spin before public safety?

The Prime Minister: It is what we did that matters. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman says that it does not matter what we did. What we did is important to the security of this country. It is for employers, first of all, to check whether they are employing people who are in this country illegally. That is the first responsibility. The
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SIA is now able to do checks of existing workers, as well as new ones. I think that the House should know that when the Bill setting up the SIA was being discussed in the House of Commons, the Conservative spokesman said:

The regulations were necessary to protect the security of our country.

Mr. Cameron: That is such a contrast with what the Prime Minister told us in May, when he said that he would be “frank about problems” and “candid about dilemmas”. He has been neither. A simple question: will the Prime Minister say when he was told about the problem? When?

The Prime Minister: The Home Secretary has been dealing with it throughout the summer— [ Interruption. ] It is an operational question, and I am sorry— [ Interruption. ] I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition puts so much onus on press releases. What matters is getting things done. We checked 6,000— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister speak. [ Interruption. ] Order. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has been quiet for a while, but he must stay quiet now.

The Prime Minister: We have checked existing workers as well as new ones. That process will be completed by the end of the year. The matter was the operational responsibility of the Home Secretary, and she took the right action.

Mr. Cameron: Why will the Prime Minister not answer the simplest of questions? If he did not know, that is serious—but it is not the end of the world. However, does he not understand that if he does not answer a question like this, people simply will not trust him? So let me ask him again: when was he told about the problem?

The Prime Minister: The arrangements for checking— [Hon. Members: “Answer!”] The arrangements for checking had been announced to the House of Commons some months ago. The question was what happened when we tightened the regulations: that was the operational responsibility of the Home Secretary, and she took the action that was necessary. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition thinks everything should go through No. 10; the Home Office was responsible, and it took action.

Mr. Cameron: Why does the Prime Minister not want to know about a major security lapse in our country? He promised us a new type of politics. He said that he would be open, he would be honest, he would be frank and he would be candid—yet today he will not answer the simplest of questions. Should not people conclude that everything he said about openness, candour and honesty was just spin?

The Prime Minister: The key issue is what is actually done, and we took action immediately in July, August, September and October. It is for that reason that the
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Home Secretary was able to report yesterday that the checks on existing workers will be completed by the end of the year. We did our duty—not press releases, but action.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Yesterday, the hon. Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and I hosted the parliamentary launch of the “honour the brave” campaign, along with Pearl Thrumble and Helen Gray, two mothers who have lost sons in Afghanistan. The aim of the campaign is to secure a medal for men and women who die or are injured in combat, so may I urge my right hon. Friend to use his good offices to try to ensure that the medal is awarded to those brave men and women, whose courageous families are also supporting their efforts to secure peace in Afghanistan and Iraq?

The Prime Minister: I join my hon. Friend in passing my condolences to the brave relatives of Private John Thrumble and Private Chris Gray who were both killed in Afghanistan in 2007. The whole House will honour all those who have given their lives in Afghanistan and those in Iraq who have laid down their lives for their country. On the question of whether a new medal is struck for those who have been killed or injured, it is first a matter for the military authorities to make a recommendation. The matter is being looked at with intensity in the Ministry of Defence. We look forward to hearing the recommendations that are made, and we will of course support them. I believe that the whole country wishes to honour people who have given their lives or who have been injured in the service of our country.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): May I add my condolences to the family of Jake Alderton?

This morning, the Chancellor wrote to me about Northern Rock and the Government’s commitment to minimising the cost to the public purse. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have now lent £24 billion of taxpayers’ money to that small mortgage bank—twice the amount of public expenditure on primary schools every year, and four times the aid budget?

The Prime Minister: First of all, we are guaranteeing the deposits of savers—that is well understood—and we are bringing forward legislation in the House. That is absolutely the right thing to do, to move from the situation in 1982, when we guaranteed only 90 per cent. up to a certain amount, to guaranteeing 100 per cent. up to the amount that will be specified when the legislation is introduced. As far as Northern Rock is concerned, matters about what is actually happening within the company are obviously of commercial confidence. I gather that the stories in the newspapers this morning are about papers unrelated to the Treasury, the Bank of England or the Financial Services Authority, and only to Northern Rock itself. I cannot comment on those confidential papers.

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