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I certainly agree that the Security Council decision was more than disappointing. The majority wanted action and I believe that those who voted against it have a responsibility to ensure that mediation does not falter. That means being unstinting in our efforts, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier. On SADC, we know that AU leaders
have been quite clear in their mandate to deliver a negotiated settlement and it is our belief that we need a UN envoy on human rights to support it. In the end, an African solution is needed to this problem, which is the absolute responsibility of Mugabe and his Government.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend reassure me and my constituent, Brian Chiwara, who is from Zimbabwe, that the aid that we are giving to that country is getting through to the people and not going into the back pocket of a dictator?
Gillian Merron: I can assure my hon. Friends constituent of that. Indeed, this morning, I spoke to our team in Zimbabwe, who are making sterling efforts despite the ban on non-governmental organisations. We are still managing to have essential medicines and supplies delivered to clinics and hospitals. We are ensuring that family planning commodities and condoms are available across the country. We are supporting HIV prevention programmes, which are continuing, and our support to UNICEFs orphans and vulnerable children programme is still helping to pay school fees for thousands of children. Indeed, 1.4 million children are being vaccinated against preventable diseases. I assure my hon. Friends constituent and the House that no funding whatever goes through the Government of Zimbabwe.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Is it not the case that the Chinese would not support the UN resolution because they are busily buying up land and assets in Zimbabwe at knock-down prices? What discussions has the Minister had about that?
Gillian Merron: As I said earlier, we are disappointed that China, along with Russia, vetoed the UN Security Council resolution. Our work is to continue to persuade China to use its influence positively and to ensure that its economic trade engagement is in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): A number of my constituents have contacted me with their concerns about the effect of sanctions on Zimbabwe on the ordinary people of that country. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, but should continue to condemn Robert Mugabe?
Gillian Merron: I certainly can agree with my hon. Friend, because the test of any sanction is that it must target Mugabe and his elite, and not harm the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, whom we are here to support. We have EU measures in place, targeting the regime through a visa ban, an asset freeze on Mugabe and 130 named individuals, and an EU embargo on arms.
With the EU, we are putting together a package of measures for the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which meets next week, to extend that to include more individuals, add companies linked to key members and tighten the exemptions to the visa ban. I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that all those are targeted on Mugabe and his regime, not on the people of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con):
Will the Government consider the possibility of publishing details of the specific support that Britain will provide for Zimbabwe once the criminal and illegitimate Mugabe
regime is over? Would not that set a good example to other prospective donor nations and encourage the surrounding countries to look to the future while offering some hope to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe for an end to their nightmare?
Gillian Merron: Our job is to get help to the poorest people in Zimbabwe to see them through this extremely difficult time. As part of that, we are using sanctions to bring people to the table, but in terms of recovery, as I said earlier, we need to work with a reforming Government. That will include full humanitarian access, the rule of law, human rights and democracy. The principles for re-engagement will be agreed by donors, and we estimate that, when it comes to it, there will be about £1 billion a year for five years. The UK stands ready to play its role, but will work with its international partners to do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Gillian Merron): The Department for International Development allocated £3 million this year towards programmes to improve basic education, financial governance, access to justice and support to civil society in the Gambia. We work closely with the Gambian Government and we also provide additional funding to donors such as the European Union, the World Bank and the United Nations agencies.
Linda Gilroy: I thank my hon. Friend for that response, which refers to a welcome investment in the rule of law and democracy in a relatively stable country, but does she understand the concerns of the Northfield family in Plymouth for their relative, Charlie Northfield, who has been detained without his passport since February in a country where the rule of law seems to grind exceeding slow, with the courts not yet having disclosed the grounds of the charge on which he is being detained?
Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend has done much to support the case to which she refers. Having sought the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices assurance, I understand that it is providing Mr. Northfield with full consular assistance. Consular staff are in regular contact with Mr. Northfield, most recently on 8 July. He is in good health, and treatment seems to be positive. However, I will ensure that my hon. Friends comments are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Richard Burden: As a constituency MP as well as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the problems that people face with rising household bills, including rising fuel bills [Interruption.] May I say that Labour Members are aware of the problems faced by people outside the House, even if Conservative Members are not? Does my right hon. Friend share my assessment that while most people understand that the roots of those problems are international in nature, and therefore the room for any single Government is limited [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: We will continue to help hard-pressed families who are facing high fuel bills and high food prices because of what is happening in every country in the world. That is why we are raising the winter allowance for 11 million families, from £300 to £400 for the over-80s. That is why we are providing help for low-income households with their fuel bills. In recognition of the problems that people face with petrol, we are freezing petrol duty for the full year. We will bring forward further measures to help families in due course.
Since this is the last Prime Ministers questions before October, may I take the opportunity to clear up some important issues? First, this weeks relaunch was based around the plan to march knife criminals into accident and emergency departments to meet their victims. Can the Prime Minister tell me who came up with that bright idea?
The Prime Minister: Everybody must be concerned about knife crime. Everybody in the House must want to take all the action that is necessary. That is why we propose tougher punishment, tougher enforcement and tougher prevention. On prevention, I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that the main proposal this week is that 20,000 families that are in great difficulty will have to sign contracts of good behaviour, and that 110,000 families will be subject to parental supervision. For the first time, we are taking action on all the antisocial behaviour families, and trying to deal with the root cause of the problem.
one of those proposals is that people caught carrying knives should be taken to see people in hospital who have been stabbed...is that correct?
She answered yes it is. The next day, in the House of Commons, she was asked the same question, and she said no, it was not. Does the Prime Minister not understand that he will not get decent policies until he works out what went wrong last time? So let me ask him again: who thought of this bright idea?
The Prime Minister: It is right that people should have to face up to the consequences of their crimes. But I am sayingand I hope that there is all-party support for thisthat there should be tougher penalties, tougher enforcement with visible policing in our communities and community support officers, and tougher prevention. The main proposal is that every problem family, where action must be taken, should be subject to parental supervision. I would have thought that that should have the support of the whole House.
Mr. Cameron: Once again: absolutely no answerno one owns up in this Government. Let me try another issue to see if he can be straight on this oneit is car tax. The Prime Minister told me last month at Prime Ministers questions that
the majority of drivers will benefit from[ Official Report, 4 June 2008; Vol. 476, c. 765.]
The Prime Minister: I told him in the House in the exchange that we had last week that the majority will be no worse off or better off as a result of what happened. If I may say so, the Conservative party said it would support action against pollution. The leader of the Conservative party said:
there will be tough choices to make for the environment and I wont shy away from them for one moment.
telling people...that you can go green without paying the price. Thats not leadership. Thats not substance.
Mr. Cameron: This is not a green taxthis is a stealth tax. The Prime Minister has a nerve to lecture me on consistency. I said he was useless a year ago and I have not changed my mind since. But once again: absolutely no apology, no answer to the question. Let us see if he can give a straight answer on something else. The Government announced today that after months of dithering they are scrapping the 2p tax rise on fuel. Can he tell us whether this decision had anything to do with the Glasgow, East by-election?
The Prime Minister: It is right to announce, as we have done previously, our decision before the House rises. Let me just deal with this vehicle excise duty point and then excise duty. The former Conservative environment spokesman, the Chairman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said:
If we are going to use bigger differentials in vehicle excise duty...they have to apply to existing secondhand cars as well.
the principle is the right principle.
The Conservatives said vote blue, go green. They said they were going to take action against pollution. The minute they are challenged on it, they walk awaythat is the history of the Conservative party.
Mr. Cameron: The message is vote blue and get rid of this useless Prime Minister. So the fuel duty had nothing to do with the by-election, where it is a massive issue, just as, presumably, the 10p tax U-turn had nothing to do with Crewe and Nantwich, just as the plan to call off the election had nothing to do with the polls. Once again, he cannot be straight with people. Let us try another issueone that we are debating in the House today. The Prime Minister said MPs expenses and allowances needed sorting out by this House, yet when there was a vote in this House, leading members of his Cabinet voted against reform, and he did not turn up. So can he tell us why he was not there?
The Prime Minister: It is very unfortunate that the actions of a few people have brought into disrepute the whole House of Commons. It is very unfortunate, because the vast majority of people who come to this House want only to engage in public service. The principles that underline the approach that the Leader of the House is announcing are that there has got to be the maximum transparency, the maximum external audit and the end of the so-called John Lewis list, and to refer these matters to the Commons Committee looking at these very issues, with a view to having a cap on mortgage interest relief and a cap on other expenses. That is the right way forward, and the right hon. Gentleman should admit that there have been problems that he has got to deal with.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister had a chance to vote against the John Lewis list and he funked ithe stayed in the Downing street bunker. He could have come across and voted for it. Yet again [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Cameron: Yet again, when leadership was required, he would not provide any. I am beginning to think the only thing in Downing street with a spine is his book on courage. As Parliament rises for the summer, should not the Prime Minister reflect on this: everyone knows there are tough times ahead and everyone knows difficult decisions have got to be taken. Is not the one thing the British people are entitled to is a Prime Minister who can provide leadership and who can tell us the truth?
The Prime Minister: That is why, while the right hon. Gentleman continues to duck the difficult decisions, we will take them. Action against terrorismhe ran away. Education to 18he ran away. GP accesshe ran away. Action against pollutionhe ran away. There are all those issues. Nuclear energyhe runs away. During the recess, he needs to address the big substantive issues. This is a Conservative party that gives no answers, offers no solution and has no substance. [Interruption.]
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): A group of my constituents will be visiting the House today with a petition opposing a proposal associated with the expansion of Heathrow to drive a road through our cemetery, where many of our loved ones are buried. Does the Prime Minister appreciate that the Government now remain, apart from the most rapacious sections of the aviation industry, virtually isolated in their support for expansion of Heathrow? Can I ask him to think again and reassess the environmental, social and economic consequences of a third runway at Heathrow? This will not be interpreted as running away; this will be interpreted as being on the side of our community.
The Prime Minister: It is right to listen to communities when these big decisions are made, and it is right to take into account what local people are saying on these matters. But this is also a big strategic decision for the country and we cannot afford to duck a decision about the future of airports for many years ahead. That is why it is right in principle to go ahead with airport expansion.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Prime Minister promised to abolish boom and bust, but now we have got both: inflation is booming, the economy is bust. Energy prices are rocketing, house prices are collapsing, thousands of jobs are on the line, and food prices just go up and up every week. When will the Prime Minister accept that a winter of discontent is just around the corner?
The Prime Minister: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen the employment figures today, but employment in this country is at its highest level ever. There are 61,000 more jobs in the economy during the last three months, and while, yes, there are problems, we have inflation that is lower than the rest of Europe and lower than America, we are taking action to take people through these difficult circumstances, which the previous Conservative Government never did when there were problems, and at the same time we are creating more jobs in this economy and we have the flexibility to enable us to withstand events. I would have thought that he would see the economy in its proper context.
Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister is so out of touch he does not understand the scale of the problem: 5.5 million British families are in fuel poverty and all he can squeeze out of the energy companies is 26p per week for each of those families; 1.7 million people on low incomes are still waiting for a decent home, and his only feeble response is to buy up fewer than 1,500 empty properties. He is tinkering at the edges, obsessed with details. Will he take a summer break, take a step back, see the big picture and come up with real answers to prevent a winter of misery for millions of British families?
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