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18 Jun 2008 : Column 939

I turn to another aspect of foreign policy. Does the Prime Minister agree that following the Irish vote the Lisbon treaty should be declared dead?

The Prime Minister: I will be attending the European Council tomorrow. I think that it is right to bring the House up to date with what has been happening. We respect the decision of the Irish. They have asked to have more time to discuss what their proposals will be to deal with the situation. They have not suggested either that they wish to postpone the ratification of the Lisbon treaty for other countries or that they wish to stall the whole process. Just as we have respect for the Irish, we should have respect for the other countries that are processing the treaty and ratifying it. Perhaps we should also have respect for this House, which has voted for the ratification of the treaty.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister should understand that either the treaty is dead or it is not. I simply do not understand why he does not have the courage to say that it is dead. This is not a treaty that Britain wanted or needed; it is a treaty that he was so ashamed of that he had to sign it in a room all on his own. Because the Prime Minister will not take a lead and declare the treaty dead, everyone suspects that he and others in Europe will make the Irish vote again. Will he guarantee that he would never support such an arrogant and high-handed move? Would it not be ridiculous to ask the Irish to vote twice when we have not even been allowed to vote once?

The Prime Minister: To follow on the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, it is surely for the Irish to decide what they want to do—not for him to tell them what they want to do, or for us to tell them what they want to do.

The right hon. Gentleman forgets all the time during this discussion that 60 per cent. of our trade is with the European Union, that 3 million jobs depend on the European Union, and that his party supports the enlargement of the European Union. The whole purpose of the treaty is to put in place the institutional arrangements that make the enlargement possible. Once again, the Conservative party wills the ends but does not support the means.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister says that this is a matter for the Irish people, but the Irish people have spoken. They have said no. Which part of “No” does the Prime Minister not understand?

The Prime Minister says that he does not want to bully Ireland, but does he not understand that continuing with the ratification process is doing precisely that? The Foreign Secretary says that we must proceed in order to express a British view. If the Prime Minister wants to hear a British view, why does he not ask the British people?

The Prime Minister: The last time a Conservative Government were in power, when the Maastricht treaty came up the then Prime Minister came to the House and said

And that is what they did.

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As for the referendum, the Conservatives opposed a referendum on Maastricht, which is about more integration. They opposed a referendum on the Single European Act when they were in power. They even opposed the initial referendum on membership of the European Union. Even now, they cannot give a straight answer on whether they support a post-ratification referendum. This is not a position of principle; it is opposition for opposition’s sake, once again.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister wants to know whether we support a “post-ratification referendum”—ratifying what, exactly, after the Irish no vote? Instead of going on about John Major, why does the Prime Minister not supply some leadership? I know that he is determined— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Members must allow the Leader of the Opposition to speak. Mr. Norris, you are far too noisy. [Hon. Members: “As always!”] As always.

Mr. Cameron: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know that the Prime Minister wants to live in the past, but why do we not learn from the past? The whole lesson of the past 10 years is that it is not possible to build support for these sorts of changes without holding a referendum.

The Prime Minister talks about history. Let us have a quick look at Labour’s history on this. [ I nterruption.] Yes, throughout the time when Labour has been in government. First the Labour Government said they did not want a constitution, then they said they would accept a constitution. They said they did not want a referendum, then they said they would have a referendum, then they cancelled the referendum and brought back the constitution. Now the constitution is half dead on the floor, they have not the courage to kill it. Frankly, I have seen more spine and leadership from a bunch of jellyfish. Why does the Prime Minister not give some leadership, tell us what he thinks, and kill this treaty today?

The Prime Minister: Let us remember what the Conservatives’ former Chancellor said. He said that a European referendum would be “crackpot”, “dotty” and “frankly absurd”. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to show that the Conservative party has really changed, why does he not change its position to support for the European Union? If he wants to lead his party, why is he being led by the Back-Bench anti-Europeans who are calling the tune every time?

We know where we are: we are in favour of Europe and the 3 million jobs that depend on it, and we will work for a European Union that helps Britain.

Hon. Members: More! More!

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): With opposition voters in Zimbabwe being murdered, beaten and starved, with independent monitors being abducted and terrorised, with the head of the pan-African observers saying that there is no way that next week’s election will be free and fair, with Mugabe declaring war on anyone who dares to vote against him, is it not time that the international community—including my old anti-apartheid friends in Pretoria—demanded that this election be called off,
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that the results of the first free and fair round be recognised, that the winner, Morgan Tsvangirai, be declared President of a Government of national unity, and that Mugabe be forced to recognise at last that the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe want him to go and want him to go now?

The Prime Minister: I have great respect for the views of my right hon. Friend, who has been involved in the politics of southern Africa for many years and has done great things.

There have been 53 confirmed deaths, some 2,000 people have been injured and 30,000 people displaced during this campaign. Four million people are in need of food aid, but are being denied it by the regime. The deputy leader of the MDC, Tendai Biti, is in police custody. Those are not circumstances in which a free and fair election can take place.

We have asked the regime to allow in observers for the 9,400 polling stations. Hundreds of observers have gone in, and more are to go in. We demand that those observers come from not just Africa but different parts of the world. We also demand that the UN human rights envoy be admitted into Zimbabwe and that proper monitoring of the elections take place. If that does not happen, it will be difficult to justify the elections as free and fair.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I add my expressions of sympathy and condolence to the friends and family of Private Jeff Doherty, Lance Corporal James Bateman and, of course, the four soldiers who tragically lost their lives in Helmand yesterday.

The Government have handed over a £9 billion windfall profit to the energy companies through the emissions trading scheme. How can the Prime Minister reconcile that huge subsidy with the fact that 5.5 million British families, and 750,000 more British pensioners, are set to plunge into fuel poverty? How can it be fair to subsidise large energy companies when ordinary families cannot pay their fuel bills?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s figures. We have increased the winter fuel payment; it is now £250 for all families in which someone is over 60, and £300—indeed, it is rising by £100 this year—for people over 80. We are determined to help elderly people to pay their fuel bills. We have also negotiated an agreement with the utilities under which, first, £100 million a year, and then £150 million a year, will be provided to help low-income families. We are determined to do everything that we can to reduce fuel poverty in this country. I do not accept that we have not acted. We are in a very difficult situation in which oil prices have trebled, and we are determined to do everything that we can to help the vulnerable families of this country.

Mr. Clegg: Those measures are tinkering at the edges. People are struggling to get by now. I am not sure whether the Prime Minister understands the pressures that families are under. They face a massive 40 per cent. hike in the price of gas, and the poorest customers are still paying the highest prices. If the Spanish Government were able to claw back more than €1 billion of their subsidy, why cannot the Prime Minister do the same?
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Will he compel British energy companies to use more of their £9 billion windfall to install smart meters and to insulate more homes, and force them to offer their best prices to their poorest customers?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman forgets that we are taking action to insulate people’s homes. We have the biggest insulation programme in history to help people who need draught-proofing and insulation for their homes. He must acknowledge when things have been done. He talks about the Spanish Government, but we have done more than the Spanish Government. We have negotiated an agreement worth £150 million a year for many years ahead. At the same time, we have increased winter allowances for pensioners. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that both he and the Conservatives opposed the winter allowances when they were introduced.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister welcome the historic decision announced in France yesterday on France rejoining the military command of NATO, thus reversing 42 years of General de Gaulle’s isolation from Euro-Atlantic military integration? Will he ensure that the Government continue to support all European efforts to work with America, as America now wants to work with Europe? Does he regret that the Conservative party continues to fight its own cold war in Europe—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Two thirds of the question was all right; the third part was terrible.

The Prime Minister: I welcome President Sarkozy’s decision that he will wish to bring France back into the inner core of NATO. I believe that that can move forward over the next year and that co-operation in NATO can be enhanced. However, I have to say that it is totally untrue that we are trying to merge the English, British and French navies—that is not something that we will do.

Q2. [211607] Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Given the intensity of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and news of an impending Cabinet reshuffle, will the Prime Minister abandon his display of contempt for our armed forces by ensuring that the next Secretary of State for Defence has just that one job, not another one?

The Prime Minister: The Defence Secretary has just returned from Afghanistan. He does a brilliant job on behalf of the defence forces. He works night and day to make sure that we have the best equipment and the best support for our defence forces, and I think that it is disreputable of the hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Following the point that the Prime Minister made just now about the future of my aircraft carriers, will he guarantee that as part of the trade-off following the collapse of the European treaty, no further additional defence arrangements will be brought forward?

The Prime Minister: We announced the measures of co-operation with the French when President Sarkozy was here in the country a few months ago, but I repeat: there is no proposal to merge the use of aircraft carriers, as has been suggested in the press. If one looks at the
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French statement—the French equivalent of a defence White Paper—it does not say that. It says that there will be association: in other words, we will work together, not merge, not amalgamate.

Q3. [211608] Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): While the situation in Zimbabwe is tragically worsening by the hour, the United Nations Security Council remains paralysed by China and by Russia. Will the Prime Minister now show some leadership by summoning the Chinese ambassador, reminding her that the eyes of the world are on China and Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics, and that the Chinese Government should cease immediately financially shoring up what the Prime Minister has rightly described as Mugabe’s “criminal regime”?

The Prime Minister: It is right that it is a criminal regime run by a criminal cabal, and we must make that clear to the rest of the world, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the UN Secretary-General has not been taking action. He has met President Mugabe and made it clear that he wants a human rights envoy into the country. Arrangements are being made for that human rights envoy to go into the country, and the United Nations Secretary-General has made it clear that his eyes are on a free and fair election. He is supporting the number of monitors who will come from outside Africa for that election, and that is what we support, as well.

Q4. [211609] Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On the same point, and bearing in mind the views expressed by our right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) and the fact that so many of us in the ’60s constantly denounced the Smith regime, is the Prime Minister aware that there is great disappointment that South Africa has not taken a stronger stand against the murderous violence that goes on day after day in Zimbabwe, and which makes a total mockery of the election that is taking place? Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to make it clear to our good friends in South Africa that we expect a much different response?

The Prime Minister: I have not kept in touch only with the President, Thabo Mbeki. I was also in touch on Sunday with the president-elect—that is, the president of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma. I made it clear to him, and he supported the idea, that there would be 1,000 monitors from the ANC party offered to Zimbabwe, so that they, too, can play their part in the election. So it is not strictly the case that South Africa is not making available election observers or monitors; that is exactly what it is doing.

I have also talked in the last week with President Kikwete, the chairman of the African Union, and with President Museveni of Uganda. They, too, and all the surrounding African states, are acknowledging the problems that are being created by Mugabe, the need to have free and fair elections, the need to put pressure on the regime for that to happen, and the need for international monitors to be in Zimbabwe, as I said in reply to the first question only a few minutes ago. These are the conditions, and the only conditions, under which a free and fair election can take place.

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Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): If the Prime Minister were to keep the promise given in the Labour manifesto of a referendum on the European treaty, what does he think the result would be?

The Prime Minister: The last time that there was a referendum on Europe, it was won by two votes to one, and I suspect that many members of the Conservative party voted for. As far as a referendum now is concerned, we have made it absolutely clear that if it was the constitutional treaty that was in line before, or if it was the euro that we were joining, there would be a referendum. But we won our five protections for Britain in the new treaty, and that has been before the House of Commons and before the House of Lords, and it was resoundingly passed by Members of this House.

Q5. [211610] Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): What advice has my right hon. Friend received from the police on the value and importance of database testing and CCTV in the fight against crime? Does he agree that the tools, as well as the resources, are very important in the fight against crime and, indeed, terrorism?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. DNA and the changes that we have made on DNA have made it possible for 40,000 criminals to be prosecuted last year alone. Some 400 of those cases were murders, 600 were rapes and many of them were very severe assaults, and those people would not have been prosecuted without the use of DNA.

Therefore, I find it surprising that the Opposition position is that we relegate the use of DNA and that the now Mr. David Davis says that we should get rid of DNA altogether. As far as— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: As far as CCTV is concerned, in the most recent experiment, in central Newcastle, CCTV reduced crime by 60 per cent. Therefore, it is wrong also for the Conservatives to turn their back on one of the great technologies that can assist us in the fight against crime. I suppose the Leader of the Opposition will go to the by-election to give his warm personal support to the candidate. I have no doubt that the candidate will stand, as in last year’s by-election, as David Cameron’s Conservative.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Why are there always so many strikes at the end of a Labour Government?

The Prime Minister: The number of industrial disputes and the number of days lost from strikes is lower by far than under the Conservative Government.

Q6. [211611] John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): In recent months, our International Development Committee has been highlighting the increasing impoverishment of the Palestinian people. In welcoming the announcement of the Hamas ceasefire from tomorrow, will my right hon. Friend urge the Israeli Government now to stop the damaging and punishing blockade, so that ordinary Palestinians suffer no longer?

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