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25 Jun 2008 : Column 275

Mr. Woodward: I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments, because he has considerable experience of both Northern Ireland and defence matters. Let me say the following in an advisory capacity to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and his friends. Military sites in Northern Ireland are extremely important historically and they offer an important source of future revenue for the Ministry of Defence. I confirm to the hon. Gentleman that in discussions about those sites my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will look extremely carefully at how the proceeds are used. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) said, it is important to recognise that it is sensible for there to be discussions between those on the ground in Northern Ireland and those in the MOD.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has confirmed that a deal was done in respect of handing over military sites to the Northern Ireland Executive. It was done in April 2003, and it was welcomed by the Conservative party, who supported that declaration, and by the Liberal Democrats, who also supported it. The sites the Secretary of State mentions were handed to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2002 and the 2003 agreement stated that additional sites should be handed over, so when are the Government going to do that?

Mr. Woodward: As I have reminded the House, the sites that were gifted were the five sites in 2002. In 2003, the wording specifically said that further sites might be made available. The right hon. Gentleman will of course know that we have been looking over the last year at some of the sites for which there are plans in Northern Ireland, but there is disappointment that there continues to be disagreement about, for example, the Maze site, which was gifted in 2002. Regrettably, it continues to be the subject of controversy. If the national stadium project were to be lost from the Maze, it would almost certainly mean that Northern Ireland would lose its opportunity to be one of the focuses for the Olympics in 2012.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the Maze is not a military site? Has he visited Omagh and discussed with the local people their interesting and imaginative scheme for an educational campus on the Lisanelly barracks site? Does he agree that it might be possible to bring that to fruition by realising the asset value of the current school sites in Omagh?

Mr. Woodward: I welcome that question not least because the hon. Gentleman has been in correspondence with me about the use of that site since October. As a result of his intervention, I visited the site some months ago. It is an exciting site because it has cross-community support and all parties in Northern Ireland would like to see the site developed. I share the enthusiasm for the development of the project and I look forward to reading the business case, which will, I understand, be presented to the Executive very shortly.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The Secretary of State has obviously been doing his homework on this subject, so can he inform the House on the progress of the sale of Shackleton barracks, and the current asking price?

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Mr. Woodward: We will continue to look at that, but all sales of military sites are matters for the Ministry of Defence.

Budget Allocations

6. Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): Whether additional financial allocations have been made to the Northern Ireland budget since the original determination of the funding allocation for 2008-09. [212548]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): Additional allocations were agreed at the end of 2007 to fund actuarial variations to police pensions, annual Barnett upratings on 12 March, an increase in the ceiling of assets sales to be retained by the Executive on 8 May, and most recently £6 million for the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund.

Mr. McGrady: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. I am somewhat whimsically disappointed that the rumours that went round the House two weeks ago did not produce millions upon millions extra for us, but be that as it may. Services in Northern Ireland are suffering a shortage of cash funding. We have an educational changeover that has not been costed in any way, and no provision appears to have been made for it. Extended school hours have been withdrawn and, in health, a comprehensive spending review is withdrawing front-line services. Will the Secretary of State engage with the Treasury, the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the new Northern Ireland Executive to try to assuage some of the real suffering that is ahead for the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Woodward: I recognise the work that is being done in education in Northern Ireland, but I remind the House that that is now a devolved matter. The finances for education are a matter for the Executive and the Assembly, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that last year in the comprehensive spending review the then Chancellor, now my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, made a generous and significant settlement to Northern Ireland. It is a matter for the Executive how the money is spent.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): There has been widespread speculation about the detail of the talks and the agreement leading up to the establishment of the new Executive. What was the deal, and does it have any budget implications?

Mr. Woodward: As always, the hon. Gentleman gets excited about his questions, but I am going to have to disappoint him. There was no deal and therefore there are no financial implications.

Mr. Paterson: I thought that the Ulster White was a rare pig, now sadly extinct. I did not realise that it had been reincarnated in flying form. We know that there were tense and difficult negotiations in Downing street with the Prime Minister. There was clearly an agreement, because the Executive was reformed, which was good news. The Secretary of State has already mentioned the figure of £6 million, which was announced by the president of Sinn Fein rather than the Secretary of
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State. Devolution of criminal justice and policing has been mentioned, as have water rates, the sale of military sites and education. Why will not the Secretary of State tell us what the deal was?

Mr. Woodward: The short answer is that there was no deal. The hon. Gentleman mentions the £6 million for the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund. This may have escaped him, but I do not think that Sinn Fein took its places to vote on the matter of 42 days last week. The hon. Gentleman should be very careful, because he is impugning the reputation of a number of Members from Northern Ireland who are highly principled on the matter of counter-terrorism. I suggest that before he gives lectures to Members of the DUP, he should pay attention to one of the most principled parties in the House when it comes to the business of building a robust framework of counter-terrorism legislation.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [213427] Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 25 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the two servicemen killed in Afghanistan yesterday. They will remain always in our thoughts and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their sacrifice.

This morning, I had meetings and discussions with ministerial colleagues, including, as the House will want to know, on the subject of bringing forward next week immediate legislation to enable the courts to grant anonymity to witnesses in cases such as those involving organised crime and witness intimidation. I hope and believe that we can do that with all-party support. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings with Ministers later today.

Mr. Mahmood: I echo my right hon. Friend’s words on our gratitude to all the servicemen who have lost their lives defending the values that we all cherish.

What action will the Prime Minister take to encourage the African nations to help resolve the current crisis in Zimbabwe?

The Prime Minister: Following the United Nations Security Council resolution, promoted by the United Kingdom, that the conditions are not there for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, we will stand alongside African leaders who do not accept the legitimacy of the election and who do not accept the legitimacy of the regime and the criminal cabal surrounding President Mugabe. I understand that the Southern African Development Community will meet today and the African Union will meet on Sunday. It is our hope that the UN and the AU can work together for a peaceful transition
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in Zimbabwe and we are ready to commit substantial resources to Zimbabwe once democracy returns.

I can also confirm that we are preparing intensified sanctions, both financial sanctions and travel sanctions against named members of the Mugabe regime. I can also announce that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the England and Wales Cricket Board. We want to ensure that Zimbabwe do not tour England next year and we will call for other countries to join us in banning Zimbabwe from the Twenty20 international tournament.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the two soldiers from the Parachute Regiment who were killed in Afghanistan yesterday? Our troops are doing an incredibly difficult job in tough circumstances and they have our full support.

Let me ask some further questions, if I may, about Zimbabwe. I believe, as I believe the Prime Minister does, that there is a real opportunity for Britain to take the initiative. There is universal anger at the stolen election, universal support for the leader of the opposition’s pulling out of the race, condemnation from the UN Security Council and, for a change, strong words from Zimbabwe’s neighbours.

May I ask the Prime Minister about three specific actions? First, at the forthcoming G8, which President Mbeki will attend, will the Prime Minister push for a declaration that all states present will cease to prop up the regime and will refuse to recognise its legitimacy?

The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the UN passed a strong presidential statement on Monday. South Africa was very much part of that statement, which made it clear that the elections could not take place in the present circumstances and called for an end to violence. I will, of course, raise the matter in every international forum. I raised it in the European Union at the Council last Thursday and Friday, and there was a strong statement from the EU. I have talked to other members of the G8, including President Bush, about the situation.

I believe that the hope that exists for a peaceful outcome to the problems that we face lies in the fact that, as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated, the leaders of so many African Governments—of Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Angola, Senegal and Kenya—as well as the African National Congress have made it absolutely clear that they cannot support the current regime. They want the full civil and political rights of the Zimbabwean people restored.

I want us to work with the African Union and the UN, and I believe that it would be best if a joint delegation went to Zimbabwe. What we want to achieve is a peaceful transition, the promise of support for a new regime, and an end to the violence that has caused so many deaths.

Mr. Cameron: We support very much what the Prime Minister has said. We too welcome the UN statement, and I also welcome what he said about sporting sanctions in answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood). Will he clarify one point arising from our discussions on Monday? He said that he would no longer recognise the legitimacy of the Mugabe
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regime, but may I ask him a bit more about what that means? The Foreign Secretary said on Monday that it is not possible to ban Mugabe from attending summits

So when the Prime Minister says that he does not recognise the regime’s legitimacy, what does he actually mean? What will the practical consequences be?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, we are bound by international laws on the question of the regime, but we do not recognise the legitimacy of the Zimbabwean Government. We do not believe that Mugabe has honoured the results of the previous election, or that the current elections can be free and fair. We want to see a peaceful transition as soon as possible.

If we look back at the elections that did take place, it was clear that Mugabe lost them and that Tsvangirai was ahead. It is also clear that the Parliament in Zimbabwe has a majority against Mugabe. That is why what African leaders have said in the last few days is so important. For the first time, many of them have condemned both Mugabe’s regime and his behaviour. We want to work for a peaceful transition. I believe that the statements made by the UN Secretary-General calling for an end to violence and offering his help to that end, as well as the strong statements from President Kikwete of Tanzania, are the best symbol of the way forward—that is, the UN and the African Union working together for a change of regime.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister mentioned tighter EU sanctions. Will he confirm that, when they are drawn up, our Government will specifically propose a full visa ban for Mugabe, his officials, their families and associates? Will the sanctions also propose financial measures, which must include a full assets freeze on institutions complicit in the regime as well as a ban on their transactions? Does he agree that this matter is not just for Governments, and that businesses and individuals that have any dealings with Zimbabwe must examine their responsibilities and ensure that they do not make investments that prop up the regime?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may also know that 160 individuals are under bans and sanctions as a result of decisions already taken. We are looking at extending the bans, as he suggested, to the families of the people involved. The bans will include financial sanctions, but also travel sanctions. We know the names of the individuals surrounding Mugabe, and we therefore know the names of the criminal cabal trying to keep him in power. We will name those individuals, and that will be part of the next stage of the sanctions.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that businesses should also look at their involvement in Zimbabwe. We have taken a decision that we will force through sanctions against the individuals who are part of the regime. We do not want to do further damage to the Zimbabwean people, but businesses that are helping the regime should of course reconsider their position.

I believe that the whole world has woken up to the evils that have been going on in Zimbabwe, and that the whole international community, with a few exceptions, is now united in calling for action. What we want is an end to the violence, and a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe.
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That is why the efforts of the AU and the UN are so important. We will support them in their efforts and offer the Zimbabwean people help with reconstruction once democracy is restored.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): On yesterday’s “Today” programme, it was argued that speculators are responsible for the doubling of the oil price. The US Congress has been examining the situation, and is working very hard to limit the damage being done by speculators—who, by the way, control more than 71 per cent. of the futures market. However, the speculators are likely to move to London where, Congress argues, the rules are more lax. What are the Government doing to protect the poor people who are having to pay the high prices at the petrol pumps?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a huge issue, because oil prices have trebled over the past two years, and they have risen very substantially in the past few months. I was in Jeddah and met all the oil producers to talk about these matters.

The first thing that we know is that the American Congress is looking at this matter. The Financial Services Authority is looking for any evidence of market manipulation and the Treasury is looking at what financial speculation may have taken place in the marketplace. If there is any evidence of that, we will act. We will also work with the rest of the European Union, which is examining the issue.

I have to tell my hon. Friend that there is another issue here: demand for oil in the world exceeds the supply of oil, and it will for years to come. That is why we are making bold decisions for which I would hope have all-party support—first of all, to have energy independence through having nuclear power in this country. While we have made the decision, the Opposition have ducked it.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the two soldiers who tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan yesterday.

Before the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, I think that some people thought he was a man of principle. Over the past 12 months, time and again, we have seen him abandon what he knows to be right for what he thinks is expedient. This afternoon, he has the chance to do the right thing when veterans from the Gurkhas march on No. 10 to hand in their medals in protest at the way in which they have been treated by this Government. I have asked him four times to receive those medals, and every time he has refused. Will he now have the grace to receive them today, or will he turn them away yet again?

The Prime Minister: I do thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the question of the Gurkhas, because it allows me to explain what has actually been done. We respect the fact that Gurkhas have fought for the United Kingdom for two centuries. They have served in conflicts throughout the world. We greatly value their contribution, both past and present, and we know that they are operating in Iraq and continue to serve with great distinction in Afghanistan.

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