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Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): One of the consequences of inquiries such as Saville is that they put enormous pressure on the resources of the police service. The Secretary of State has reduced the budget for the police service in the current year, and the Chief Constable has indicated that he is close to the tipping point in regard to his ability to deliver the
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necessary police input for these inquiries. Will the Secretary of State look again at increasing the budget in order to offset the cost of the PSNI’s role in these inquiries?

Mr. Woodward: I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I must of course disagree with the idea that we have reduced the budget. The fact is that the PSNI will have a budget of nearly £1 billion for this year. That is an extremely large budget, and I am confident that every penny of it will be well spent. The PSNI has to spend a great deal of time dealing with the past, and it matters that it should do so. I believe that it is appropriately funded to do that work, despite the pressures that it faces. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to work with the Eames consultative group on the past, to see whether we can find other, more effective ways of dealing with some of the issues that are undoubtedly a legacy of the past.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I should like to associate Her Majesty’s official Opposition with the comments made by the Secretary of State on the disgraceful attack on Police Officer Crozier. We wish him a speedy recovery, and we pay tribute to the bravery of all PSNI officers. We also congratulate the passer-by who showed great courage in rescuing him.

The Saville inquiry was set up 10 years ago. It last took evidence in 2004, its costs are heading towards £200 million, of which nearly half has been paid to lawyers, and there is no sign of the report appearing. Does the Secretary of State really think that that is acceptable?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman will know that, because the Saville inquiry was set up before the Inquiries Act 2005, the Government are ultimately unable to control the legal costs involved, despite the constant pressure that we are bringing to bear on the inquiry to be cost-effective. However, for the families involved, and for the nationalist community, which was so unsettled by the way in which the matter had been dealt with historically, it was absolutely right that my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister committed the Government to conducting the inquiry. It has taken longer and cost more than we wanted it to, but at the end of the day we have to separate cost and value, and the value of this inquiry is incalculable.

Mr. Paterson: That was an unsatisfactory reply, because it showed that the delay has been caused by the manner in which the Government set up the inquiry. Will the Secretary of State give the House a guarantee that no future historical inquiry will be as open-ended and extravagant as Saville, given his new remit under the Inquiries Act 2005?

Mr. Woodward: It is perfectly clear that the Inquiries Act has set out precisely how any future inquiry should be conducted. The hon. Gentleman will also know that, in all the conversations that I have had about inquiries, I have insisted that any future inquiry would have to be held under the terms of the Act.


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Criminal Damage (Compensation)

6. Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): What the timetable is for the implementation of the proposed compensation schemes relating to criminal damage in Northern Ireland. [204421]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I intend to issue a consultation document in June on proposed changes to the criminal damage legislation as it applies to community halls. Subject to that consultation, I intend to lay a draft order in the autumn.

Dr. McCrea: I thank the Minister for the series of meetings that have taken place between my DUP colleagues and the Orange Institution on this serious matter, and also for the positive outcomes that have been achieved thus far. Can he confirm that he would expedite the process, should there be a continuation of this despicable campaign to destroy Orange halls?

Paul Goggins: I welcome the constructive engagement of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues and of the leadership of the Orange Order. The most important thing was to ensure that we minimised the attacks on Orange halls, and I am pleased to say that, to date this year, there have been only eight attacks, compared with 58 last year. That is an improvement. We will bring forward the proposals for proper consultation and bring them into effect in due course.

Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): Does the Secretary of State agree that it is long past time for meaningful change to be made to facilitate the claims of victims, who up to now have had to prove often impossible parameters in regard to their claims? Does he agree that, where there is clear evidence of a co-ordinated attack on an Orange hall or on Gaelic Athletic Association premises, for example, a statement from a senior policeman to the effect that there has been a co-ordinated, syndicated conspiracy should be enough to prove entitlement?

Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of my prime objectives over recent months has been to ensure that the existing compensation scheme works more effectively so that where there is evidence of an illegal organisation’s involvement, a Chief Constable’s certificate should be issued, and where three or more people are conspiring to create damage, compensation should be paid. I am trying to make the present system work more effectively, as well as to extend the provisions as I have outlined.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [205271] Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 May.


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The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): 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. Sarwar: Will my right hon. Friend join me and the House in wishing every success to Rangers football team, which is proud to be Scottish and British, in bringing the UEFA cup to Glasgow?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that 1.5 million survivors of the cyclone in Burma are facing starvation, disease and, ultimately, death. Will he tell the House what the Government are doing to get aid through to those people who are in desperate need?

The Prime Minister: I think the whole House will, of course, want to send best wishes to Rangers football club, which is playing against St. Petersburg in Manchester this evening.

My hon. Friend raises a point that is touching the conscience of the whole world: a natural disaster in Burma has been turned, by the actions of a despicable regime, into a human catastrophe—a man-made catastrophe as a result of its actions. While there is a huge debate about some of the issues surrounding it, the key thing for all of us is to get aid to the people of Burma as quickly as possible by the means available to us. That is why, over the last few hours, a British plane has arrived in Rangoon and three others will arrive very soon. More planes will be sent over the next few days. The first will provide shelter for 45,000 people. That is also why, over the next day or two, about 60 flights in total will have arrived in Rangoon. There has been an improvement, but it is not good enough.

It is not good enough because of the needs of the Burmese people—the one and a half million who face famine and other distress—and it is not good enough because the regime is still preventing aid from getting to the rest of the country. That is why I asked Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to convene an emergency summit and why I asked him—I believe he is considering it now—to go to the country and also why Lord Malloch-Brown has gone to Asia to talk to Asian Ministers about how they can co-ordinate action. While it is right to debate the responsibility to protect as well as air drops, the key thing at the moment is to pressure the regime by getting all countries in Asia uniting with all of us to make sure that aid gets as quickly as possible to the people of Burma. We are ready to do everything in our power—HMS Westminster is in the area and we are working with French and American ships—to do so. At the same time, we have a humanitarian team in Rangoon ready to do everything it can in the future. I hope that the whole House will unite in saying that the Burmese regime must let into the country all aid workers and all aid immediately.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in wishing Rangers well. I am sure he is right to say that the whole House will support that, but I wonder whether the Prime Minister’s former ministerial colleague who was the chairman of Celtic football club would take the same view. We will see.

More importantly, the whole House will want to express our sympathy for the victims of the earthquake
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in Sichuan. Everyone will have seen the very swift response of the Chinese Government, which is in stark contrast to the reaction of the regime in Burma, where the neglect of the military junta is turning a natural disaster into a man-made catastrophe. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his update. He rightly says that the Burmese Government must let aid through, but may I push him a little further on that? If that does not happen, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take further steps, including raising the issue of the responsibility to protect at the UN and supporting international efforts to deliver aid directly?

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the action that we have already taken. Of course we will raise the issue of responsibility to protect at the United Nations, and of course we will leave ourselves open to considering the issue of air drops. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman, however, that everyone on the ground and every aid agency that is advising us says that the best way of getting aid to the Burmese people quickly is to continue the pressure on the Burmese Government—which has yielded some results, but not sufficient results, in the last few days—so that Asian countries are in a position to help us to convey the aid that is available to those people.

I must also tell the right hon. Gentleman that when we have tried to arrange a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the issue, we have been blocked by other countries. That is why I have asked Ban Ki-moon to hold an emergency summit of the kind that Kofi Annan held at the time of the 2004 tsunami. I believe that progress is being made in regard to the summit, and I hope it will be a means of bringing additional pressure to bear on the Burmese Government through Asia. I do not rule out anything, and no one should rule out anything, but let us be honest. All the aid agencies and others are telling us exactly the same: we must intensify the pressure to get more aid in through the Burmese Government as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: Of course the Prime Minister is right to say that the best way of providing direct aid is to persuade the Burmese Government to open up the country to allow the aid agencies in, but I think it is worth setting a deadline for when we must say that not enough has got through and more should be done. It is true that the experts say that only a fifth of direct aid will get through, but a fifth of something is better than 0 per cent. of nothing.

Can the Prime Minister clarify an aspect of the responsibility to protect? The British ambassador to the UN has said that the UK’s responsibility to protect does not apply to natural disasters, but yesterday the Foreign Secretary said that it certainly could. Will the Prime Minister make it absolutely clear that, in our view, the responsibility to protect should be extended to Burma and to Burmese people at this time?

The Prime Minister: There are two ways of proceeding. There is the responsibility to protect and there is the right to humanitarian intervention, which was invoked in 1999. We are leaving all the options open.


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I must correct the right hon. Gentleman: we must not fall for the impression that there is some easy answer in air drops. Like others, I am prepared to consider them, but Save the Children said this morning:

to get rid of the blockages

Oxfam too has said that air drops are a distraction, and the World Food Programme, which is co-ordinating aid in Rangoon, has said that they would be “counter-productive”. Water supplies cannot be dropped from the air without putting people in the country at risk.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I rule out nothing, but we must not give the public of Britain or other countries the impression that the best course is not the one that we are proposing: to intensify pressure on the Burmese Government, and to ensure that aid reaches the people of Burma.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): Every year thousands of little angels are supported by children’s hospice services, but funding levels are often far lower than those for comparative services for adults. In my constituency, the Grace House appeal is selling crystal angels to raise funds to build a hospice. Will the Prime Minister give his support to the campaign, and also take steps to improve funding levels for children’s hospices?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. Last week I met a delegation to discuss how we could improve funding for hospices in the future. We have set aside additional money to support all hospices and “hospice at home” services for children for up to five years, with funding of £10 million a year until 2011, and we are publishing “Better Care: Better Lives”, which was launched in February and which is our strategy for children’s palliative care.

This is a vexed issue for many parents. I recognise that, and I know that Governments must do more. We will continue to look at what more we can actually do.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Yesterday’s announcement was a complete charade. The Government pretend to have solved the 10p problem when they have not, and the Conservatives seem only to be concerned about the effect on their chances in a by-election. How can they all ignore the fact that even after yesterday’s announcement, more than 1 million of the poorest people in the country are still worse off? Do they not matter?

The Prime Minister: I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman. His party’s former acting leader and current shadow Chancellor welcomed our announcement yesterday. He welcomed it because 22 million people will be better off. No Government have a better record of tackling poverty than this Government. We have taken 600,000 children out of poverty, another 300,000 children are to be taken out of poverty, and 1 million pensioners are being taken out of poverty. No Liberal policy would ever have achieved that.


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Mr. Clegg: The fact remains that under a Labour Government the worst paid are worse off. Why do they have to pay for the Prime Minister’s incompetence? They cannot wait any longer, so when will he come back to the House with specific proposals to compensate in full the 1 million people he has betrayed?

The Prime Minister: We have said that we will come back in the pre-Budget report, but the right hon. Gentleman must not forget the fact that every person in the country who is an income tax payer at the basic rate will receive £120. Twenty-two million people will receive that money, and households in which there are two such people will receive £240. We have done what we said we would do to offset the average losses, and we are the only Government who are taking people out of poverty—poverty trebled under the Conservative Government.

Q2. [205272] Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Thanks to Government investment, Hastings will soon have a new state-of-the-art health centre where GPs will be working together to provide and extend access to people in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the proposals made by some to limit the contract already made with GPs for weekend and evening access would undermine—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is too long.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the advances that have been made in GP services in this country. There is now weekend opening in places where there was not weekend opening before. There is now access to GP after-hours services where there was not such access in the evenings before. The party that would put this at risk is the Conservative party, which says it would backtrack on the promise that has been made and voted on by GPs.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Yesterday, it was revealed that in private the Housing Minister told the Cabinet that house prices would fall by up to 10 per cent. this year, house building was stalling and further falls were predicted. Yet in public the same Minister said the housing market was strong. Does the Prime Minister agree that she was not being straight with people?

The Prime Minister: It is because of the condition of the housing market that I will be announcing new measures in my statement after Question Time. The housing situation has deteriorated in the last few weeks, and we will be taking measures to protect first-time buyers and give them new opportunities, to take out stock that is not being bought so that housing associations and other authorities can buy it, and to help people who are facing repossession. I thought the Opposition would support that, but perhaps they do not remember that 15 years ago they caused the most repossessions we have ever seen in our history.


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