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Paul Goggins: We are always happy to learn lessons from colleagues in Wales, and I am sure that the whole House will be interested in my hon. Friend’s experience there. In the end, cracking down on low level criminality, social disorder and antisocial behaviour requires effective local partnerships. In Northern Ireland there are 26 local community safety partnerships in which the police work with local councils and a range of other agencies
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to make sure that those issues are dealt with. That will be in common with my hon. Friend’s experience; that is the kind of approach that works.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): The Minister will be aware of recent criminal and sectarian attacks on Orange halls; most have taken place in my constituency. Will the Minister confirm that by February of this year he will move legislation through the House to enable those Orange halls and lodges to claim compensation?

Paul Goggins: We all condemn unreservedly the attacks on Orange halls. I was able to join the hon. Gentleman in a visit to Ballyworkan in his constituency, where a deplorable attack took place before Christmas. Members of the Orange Order are trying to do their best to put something into communities through their Orange halls, and I condemn unreservedly those who attack them. As he knows, I am committed to ensuring that where Government compensation is due it should be paid quickly, but we need to ensure that the commercial cover works as well. Over the next few weeks, we will do everything possible to ensure that the commercial option is thoroughly investigated and examined. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a clear commitment to the Orange Order and to members of the hon. Gentleman’s party that we will look at this again in early March.

Drug Smuggling

5. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the police authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on drug smuggling; and if he will make a statement. [175920]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): There is close co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Siochana, and I have regular discussions with all law enforcement agencies about drug smuggling and other forms of organised crime.

Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that drug smuggling is becoming an increasing problem in Northern Ireland. What is he doing to ensure that the drug bosses at the very top are dealt with and prosecuted?

Paul Goggins: What is required is close collaboration between the police forces north and south of the border. They are actively engaged in that; they have regular contact and share intelligence. Indeed, in December—just a few weeks ago—a joint operation north and south of the border intercepted an organised criminal gang, some of whom were arrested north of the border and some south of the border. There have been a number of arrests and some people have been charged. That kind of effective enforcement action will, in the end, remove the drugs barons and others who profit out of the misery of drugs, who should rightly be out of the community and in prison where they belong. [ Interruption. ]

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Mr. Speaker: Will the House come to order? One corner is very noisy indeed.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Chief Constable feels that he is being severely held back by the amount of time that his force is having to spend looking back over past matters and not getting on with matters such as that which my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned—the joint pursuit of those responsible for the drugs problem. Will the Minister do all that he can to ensure that the Chief Constable is allowed to get on with his job, which is policing for today and tomorrow rather than so much for yesterday?

Paul Goggins: The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. Every pound that is spent on policing the past is a pound that is not spent on policing the present and making the future absolutely safe. The Government have established, under Robin Eames and Denis Bradley, a commission to investigate whether there is a way of drawing a line under the past that will enable the whole of society in Northern Ireland to move forward, including on policing. We must devote all the resources that we can to ensuring that Northern Ireland is a safe place in which to live and work.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the Minister understand the frustration that is felt within communities in Northern Ireland when they see the godfathers of the drug smuggling industry swanning around the countryside endlessly enjoying their ill-gotten gains, many of them not having worked a day in their lives? When will we have effective measures taken against these abusers of society?

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is right to express his anger about such people. Where possible, they should be arrested, prosecuted and put behind bars. Short of that, it is also possible to seize and remove the assets that they have gained through their criminality. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, and the House, that in the first six months of the current financial year some £10 million-worth of criminal assets were seized and confiscated. That is an encouraging use of the powers that we now have to track down and crack down on those criminals wherever we possibly can.

Security Situation

8. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): If he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. [175923]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The security situation in Northern Ireland has vastly improved in recent years. However, the recent serious, although isolated, incidents highlight the continued threat posed by a small handful of individuals who continue to live in the past, not the future.

Andrew Selous: What success are the police having in dealing with dissident organisations that are now turning their focus from terrorist to criminal activities?

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Mr. Woodward: The police continue to make significant progress in dealing with criminality in Northern Ireland, which is why crime figures there are among the best in the UK. However, at no point will we be complacent about those dissident elements in republicanism and loyalism that continue to pose a small and isolated threat. Equally, let it be clear that those people have no support in the community and that we will continue to hunt them down.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): While the security situation has undoubtedly improved, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be entirely wrong and a deep injustice if the perpetrators of terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland were to be granted an amnesty?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I realise that he is effectively commenting on remarks made by the commission on the past. Let me remind him that its deputy chairman, Denis Bradley, has said that nothing is ruled out and that nothing is ruled in, and what matters is that the commission collects views. He accepted that there are some who have a view about an amnesty and that it is for others to have a view about that and for the group to make an assessment of that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [175851] Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Havard: The Prime Minister will know that economic inactivity in constituencies such as mine will only be successfully tackled with sustained investment in the creation of jobs, and the giving of skills and support to people. However, given the growing economic global uncertainty, will he meet me and colleagues who represent the valleys to look at the work already being successfully done by the Department for Work and Pensions and others to build our economic capacity? Will he assure me that any responses he makes to the global uncertainties that there may be in the economy will not be allowed to damage the sustainability of that investment?

The Prime Minister: Long-term unemployment in my hon. Friend’s constituency is down 72 per cent. since 1997. Since 1997, there have been 135,000 new jobs in Wales, and there are nearly 3 million new jobs in the country. I believe that as we face these uncertain global times, when there are difficulties that have started in America that affect the whole of the world economy, it is important to remember that what makes
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us well placed to face such difficulties is the low inflation and high levels of employment we have achieved in this country, and the low interest rates that stand us in good stead to face global uncertainties. Of course I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues to talk about those issues.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I start be welcoming the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) to his post? [ Interruption. ] He is moving away from me already. He is the fourth Liberal Democrat leader that I have faced, and I wish him well— [ Interruption. ]although not that well. I am simply relieved that it is no longer my party that has this habit of replacing its leader on quite such a regular basis.

A few months ago— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Cameron: I am on my second Labour Prime Minister as well.

A few months ago, a Home Office Minister said:

Is that still the Government’s policy?

The Prime Minister: That is the policy, but it is a matter for Parliament to decide after we have looked at the voluntary system in place. All the evidence we have had over the past few months is that where information— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Allow the Prime Minister to answer the question.

The Prime Minister: The whole purpose of identity cards is to protect people’s identity and the way to do that is to use, in addition to the passport information that will be part of the identity card, biometrics so that use of the information cannot be triggered other than by the facial or fingerprint data that are part of the biometrics. That is the purpose of identity cards.

The right hon. Gentleman’s police adviser, Sir John Stevens, and Lady Neville-Jones, his security spokesman in the House of Lords, both support identity cards.

Mr. Cameron: We have learned in the past few months that it is completely unsafe to trust the Government with any more of our identity information. If the Prime Minister wants to trade quotes, what about one from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He said that identity cards were “not necessary”. He continued:

Compared with being Chancellor in the Government, being a magnetic strip on a plastic card would probably be a welcome relief.

If it is the Government’s policy to press for compulsion, why did the Prime Minister say in The Observer on Sunday that,

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Why did he give such a misleading answer?

The Prime Minister: Because there has to be a vote of Parliament. We have passed the original identity cards proposals. That is a voluntary system. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that not only do some members of his party support identity cards, but people recognise that the identity card will contain little more than the information that is now given for passports. I have to ask him: does he support identity cards for foreign nationals, which we are introducing this year?

Mr. Cameron: Everybody in the House wants proper biometric visas for people visiting this country. The question for the Prime Minister is why he cannot give a straight answer on identity cards. Let me try it another way. What is his personal view? My personal view is that I am against compulsory identity cards. What is his view? Is he in favour—yes or no?

The Prime Minister: It is the Government’s policy to move ahead with this, but subject to a vote of Parliament, and depending on how the voluntary scheme works. I ask the right hon. Gentleman again: does he support ID cards for foreign nationals—yes or no? He says that he is against them; is he in favour of them for foreign nationals?

Mr. Cameron: I just answered the Prime Minister’s question. Does he not recognise that part of his problem is that he cannot give a straight answer to a straight question?

Let us have a look at another vital decision, this time on the economy. It is only three months before the start of the financial year. Businesses throughout the country want to know the capital gains tax rate that they will face in April. Will the Chancellor go ahead with his 80 per cent. increase in capital gains tax rates, or are we set for another humiliating U-turn?

The Prime Minister: I see that the right hon. Gentleman’s incursion into identity cards did not last long. He cannot answer the central question of whether he supports ID cards for foreign nationals. He could not give me the answer on two occasions. I suggest that the whole country supports ID cards for foreign nationals, and that that is the best protection we have, and one of the best against illegal immigration. If he cannot answer that question, he is not fit to ask questions about other issues.

On capital gains tax, when we came to power it was 40 per cent. Now, under the Chancellor’s proposals, it is 18 per cent. The Chancellor has agreed to consult on its implementation and will report back to the House of Commons in due course. Why did the Conservatives have 18 years of not reducing the rate of capital gains tax?

Mr. Cameron: I remember our cutting taxes and the right hon. Gentleman’s opposing every single tax cut we proposed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised the House of Commons that he would make a statement on capital gains tax by Christmas. Business needs to have the answer to that question.

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Here is something else about the economy. Goldman Sachs, the Prime Minister’s advisers, state that

Those are the words of the Prime Minister’s advisers.

Let us consider another big economic decision that the right hon. Gentleman must take. At a time of financial turmoil the markets need clear leadership, not more dithering from the Prime Minister. Will he confirm, here and now, that he will recommend Mervyn King for another term as Governor of the Bank of England?

The Prime Minister: The choice of the Governor of the Bank of England will be made in the usual way and announced in the usual form. On capital gains tax, again the right hon. Gentleman does not return to the issue. He was principal adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when capital gains tax was 40 per cent. He was also principal adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of Black Wednesday. The difference between our country then and now is that inflation at that time was 10 per cent. and the Conservatives could not reduce interest rates, whereas inflation at the moment is 2 per cent. and the Governor of the Bank of England was able to reduce interest rates. We face the global crisis with higher employment than ever before, and we face the global turbulence with low interest rates and low inflation. It is a record that they could never match.

Hon. Members: More!

Mr. Cameron: There is plenty more. I remember a shadow Chancellor who sat here and supported every aspect of being in the exchange rate mechanism and every single step that was taken. I seem to remember a politician who when he was in his 20s supported wholesale renationalisation and punitive tax rates, and wore his CND badge with pride. That was the Prime Minister. Is it not the case that his capital gains tax policy is in complete confusion, he cannot make up his mind about the Governor of the Bank of England, and his ID policy is in full retreat? All that is from a Prime Minister who has lost everyone’s identities, seen a run on a bank, and whose Ministers are rocked from one funding scandal to another. He can talk about long-termism all he likes, but everyone knows that it is just a smokescreen for the short-term mess that he has made. Is that not why his relaunch is utterly doomed to fail?

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