Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Quesitons 80-99)


13 DECEMBER 2007

  Q80  Mr Whittingdale: On that, it has always been the case that the police were regarded as being in a special category, not just because they have to put their lives at risk but also because they have given up the right to strike. You will be aware that many of them are now saying that if they are no longer regarded as a special case by the Government, why should they behave differently to other public sector workers; why should they not now consider taking some forms of industrial protest within the law?

  Mr Brown: You are wrong to suggest that everything that is happening in relation to police pay is as it always has been except for this decision. We are moving from a system of police pay which was related to one index to discussions about how it can be related to a different system. So a lot is being discussed about changes in the police pay system and I think these discussions should go ahead and people should draw the conclusion. I also note that there are many people in the police who do not want to break the decision that has been both a decision of the police and a decision of governments that there is a no strike agreement.

  Q81  Mr Whittingdale: But what is the point of going on having discussions if you have made it absolutely clear that you are not prepared to make any movement on the question of pay?

  Mr Brown: The discussions that are taking place are not simply about 1 December's pay rise. They are about the long-term system for setting police pay for the future. Let me just repeat: I value the police. The fact that we have more police in this country than ever before is a recognition of the important job that they do in building community cohesion as well as protecting law and order. I would like to pay the police more. That is what I think the Government would wish to do under circumstances in which we did not have to counteract what is a major economic issue that had to be dealt with. I am sorry if people from other parties do not recognise that it was the failure in the past to deal with economic problems when they started to arise that caused us to have a stop-go economy for so many years and caused us to move from boom to bust and into recessions on so many different occasions. I think people should bear in mind that for the last 10 years we have had consistent, stable growth in this economy and I am determined that that is the pattern for the next period as well.

  Chairman: We come to the final section, foreign policy priorities and delivery.

  Q82  Malcolm Bruce: Prime Minister, this Government is active in foreign policy issues all over the world, perhaps more active than it has been for a considerable amount of time. Initially can I turn attention to Afghanistan? You made a statement yesterday in the House which had a great deal of detail and I think which was generally welcomed. Do you accept in the context of Afghanistan that there is a real problem with border security, both specifically from Iran and from Pakistan? When my Committee was in Afghanistan at the end of October we were constantly being told by the Afghan authorities that the difficulty of dealing with the Taliban was that they retreated across an unpoliced border into Pakistan. We then met the Pakistan Ambassador, who said actually, terrorism in Pakistan was increasingly being sourced by cross-border activity from Afghanistan. Can you say what talks the Government is having about how to deal with security in the federally administered tribal areas on that border, which, after all, has never been internationally recognised?

  Mr Brown: This is exactly the discussions I had with President Karzai on Monday, that there can be no long-term solution to the security of Afghanistan if it does not involve regional co-operation. First, of course, Iran has got to play a more positive role, and I said that in the statement yesterday. Second, as you rightly detect, the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has to be a stronger one where they are co-operating together to deal with the terrorist problems that they face. There has been considerable success in Afghanistan in dealing with the Taliban but equally, of course, there are problems relating to Al Qaeda which have to be dealt with and ought to be dealt with by stronger regional co-operation. What I saw my role as on Monday was to urge President Karzai to build stronger relationships, as he is trying to do, with President Musharraf and others in Pakistan who also have an interest in dealing with these problems.

  Q83  Malcolm Bruce: In those areas, that is the centre of the poppy production and the opium and heroin trade. Again, we were told that eradication of poppy can only come about with greater security. In reality, the UK has a responsibility in Helmand, which has become the world's greatest centre of poppy production. The reason for that apparently is that the opium dealers will buy the poppy direct from the farm gate, which makes it a much more attractive crop than any other where you have to get it to market and with no security you cannot do it. In that context, you said yesterday there will be no deals with the Taliban but there is a lot of discussion about how you separate the Taliban and actually get the tribal leaders on side across that disputed border area. Can you tell us how you think that can happen in ways that will actually enhance security and not actually drive the poppy farmers more into the hands of the Taliban?

  Mr Brown: This is the big issue, as you rightly suggest. There has been some success in some provinces which are classified as poppy-free. There has been limited success in Helmand, which, as I understand it, has about half the world's production and therefore is the major source of the problems that we have to deal with for the future. I said yesterday that eradication of course on the ground—and there has been a huge debate about aerial spraying, and our view is that there should be eradication on the ground—has to be matched by better judicial systems, it has to be matched by a determination to talk to and involve the tribal chiefs, but it has also, of course, got to be matched by alternative sources of economic activity that can be attractive to people who otherwise would see their only source of livelihood in drugs. Therefore the counter-narcotics programme has to involve all these things. It has to be a combined set of measures. To make that work you require a stronger national government. That is the importance that I attach to building up the capacity to govern both nationally and, of course, locally as well.

  Q84  Malcolm Bruce: Just finally on that point, do you agree that sometimes talk about the Taliban is not entirely clear or helpful? We were asked in Afghanistan if we understood what the definition of "Taliban" was and they said "unemployed young man". In other words, the Taliban is a great catch-all for a whole variety of different issues. Do you accept that it is really important to understand that there is a real Taliban which clearly want to overthrow and re-establish an Islamist society? There are many disaffected people that need to be won back, and both our military and civil strategy has to ensure that we separate the real Taliban from those disaffected people.

  Mr Brown: I hope I emphasised yesterday that the Taliban leadership has to be eradicated and that is why the Musa Qala attacks are important, because the Taliban were routed from that area but, you are absolutely right, there is a large number of people who can easily come under the influence of extremist elements if there are no alternative sources of economic activity and if there are no alternative messages, either through the tribal chiefs or through others, that are being put to the people. President Karzai says that over the last few months about 5,000 former fighters have come over from what would be called the Taliban into supporting the democratic structures that have been created in Afghanistan and, of course, where you can break the Taliban, divide and rule, where you can defeat those people by isolating the leadership from others who may come under their influence, you are going to be able to make a difference for the future, and that is part of the strategy of reconciliation that the President is pursuing.

  Chairman: Before we leave Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mohammad Sarwar would like to ask a question.

  Q85  Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, may we agree that the best way to defeat terrorism and extremism is to promote democratic governments in the world, particularly in the Islamic countries? As you know, there are going to be elections in Pakistan on eight January. I think it is encouraging that President Musharraf has taken off his uniform and he has set the political prisoners free, but still there is a state of emergency, the constitution is suspended, one of the most popular TV channels, Geo, is still off the air. Would you encourage or use your Government's influence on President Musharraf to say that the emergency must be lifted, the constitution must be restored and the media must be free to ensure free and fair elections in Pakistan?

  Mr Brown: I think it is important for Pakistan and for people who are elected in these important elections that these elections are seen to be fair, and therefore it is important that they happen with a free media, and it is important that they happen without a state of emergency. To President Musharraf's credit, he has kept his word that he will remove the uniform, he has released large numbers of political prisoners, and he says that he wishes to end the state of emergency as soon as possible but you are absolutely right: if the elections are to be seen to be fair and can bind the country together in a serious way, then other steps will have to be taken before these elections actually happen.

  Malcolm Bruce: I am going to ask James Arbuthnot to talk about the relationship between the Government and our Armed Forces.

  Q86  Mr Arbuthnot: Prime Minister, your visit to the troops in Afghanistan was, I think, much appreciated and welcomed, as was your recent visit to Iraq, but I do not think you visited the troops deployed abroad when you were Chancellor of the Exchequer very frequently. I wonder whether you think there would be any merit in having a regular programme of visits by Treasury ministers to see the troops deployed abroad?

  Mr Brown: I think you are being very unfair. I did visit the troops when I was Chancellor and, of course, I have had a long-term interest in defence issues because my own constituency was included, and that is next-door to the naval base in Rosyth Dockyard, and I have a tremendous affection for what the Armed Forces do and continue to do and wish to give them all the support possible; so I think the assumption of your question is wrong. Of course, every senior minister will wish to give what support he or she can to the Armed Forces.

  Q87  Mr Arbuthnot: How about a regular programme of visits?

  Mr Brown: Are you talking about the Treasury or are you talking about myself?

  Q88  Mr Arbuthnot: The Treasury Minister. I think the Defence Minister visits troops very regularly.

  Mr Brown: Of course we want to see that happen, but I do not think you should assume that there has not been contact in the past in a way that has been beneficial to both the Treasury and to the Armed Forces.

  Q89  Mr Arbuthnot: Once again, something else that has been welcomed is the fact that the pay for the Armed Forces went up by 3%, and for some of the junior ranks it went up by 9%, but it was not funded. Given that the Ministry of Defence's budget went up by, I think, 1.5%, do you accept that that leaves the Ministry of Defence with some really difficult decisions to grapple with?

  Mr Brown: I do not accept the presumption of your question either. I think you are basing this on misleading information. The Ministry of Defence has had a budget that has risen every year. The recommendation to accept the pay review body award in full was theirs. The money that was provided to the Ministry of Defence also has an addition for every operation that the Ministry of Defence and our Armed Forces are involved in, so over these last few years, in addition to the 30, 31 billion or so budget of the Ministry of Defence, six billion has gone in monies that have been paid by the Treasury for operations that they are conducting in Iraq and Afghanistan. What has actually happened over these last few years is that urgent operational requirements have been met from the reserve, additional money has been paid for the work that has been done in Iraq and Afghanistan and that is on top of a rising budget for the Ministry of Defence that now makes our defence budget the second biggest in the world. Where 10 years ago it was only the fifth biggest in the world after France, after Russia and after China, it is now second only to America. Of course, that is right because of the work that we have to do, but I do not think the assumption of your question is right at all.

  Q90  Mr Arbuthnot: I am just telling you what the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence told us last week, that the pay rise was not funded. He may have been wrong.

  Mr Brown: I have to say to you that that is based on a misconception about how pay deals are done. If there is a public sector pay award and the department wishes to propose that it pays it in full, then that will come from its own resources, for which allocation has been made in the three-year settlements. It is not usual for any public sector pay award to come from the reserve—that has not been the practice, and that would, of course, be a very inflationary way of doing things.

  Q91  Mr Arbuthnot: My final question is about the Defence Export Services Organisation. Did you discuss the change in the status of the Defence Export Services Organisation with Lord Drayson before you did it, and do you accept that the general view of the defence industry is that the change was a quite serious mistake?

  Mr Brown: I think you will find that the change now announced in detail by John Hutton only two days ago is something that the defence industry and the defence establishment can be happy with, because the defence security organisation that has been built within the UKTI[4] will draw on the expertise of the Ministry of Defence but have all the advantages that the UK TI has in resources that allows it to work in 100 countries in the world. I think you can see from the statement that was made by Mike Turner, the Chief Executive of BAE, that some of the things that people were concerned about have actually been dealt with in the detailed work that has gone into building the new organisation, but the argument for doing this is very clear, that those people who award the licenses should be separated from those people who promote the exports, otherwise there is a potential conflict of interest, and that is what has underlain the change that has been brought about. I repeat that the Cabinet ministers who were involved in this were consulted.

  Malcolm Bruce: Thank you. Prime Minister, on foreign affairs issues Iran is virtually in the headlines every day. I am going to ask Mike Gapes to address some questions on that.

  Q92  Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, last month the United States National Intelligence Council estimates judged with high confidence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme from the end of 2003 until mid 2007 and with moderate to high confidence that it is at the minimum keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. Do we agree with that assessment?

  Mr Brown: I think the issue that we are most concerned about in relation to what you say is the enrichment of uranium. If Iran is enriching uranium or seeking to do so in a context where it has no real programme for civil nuclear power, then there is a question mark over their motive, and over hiding the information from the international community for years, and over the purpose of what the enrichment of uranium could in a very short period of time lead to; so the United Nations Security Council motions are related to the enrichment of uranium and the threat that that potentially poses, because you can move from enriching uranium quickly to the production of nuclear weapons.

  Q93  Mike Gapes: You have referred to the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Those two existing sanctions, resolutions 1737 and 1747, have led to an Iranian reaction whereby they have accelerated the production of enriched uranium, and the IAEA[5] Board's report from Mr El Baradei three weeks ago says they now have up to 3,000 centrifuges operating and it also says that they are being less co-operative with the inspections of the IAEA. How do you interpret that?

  Mr Brown: I interpret them in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and, therefore, that the world is right to insist, by sanctions, that Iran comes back into line. There are a number of offers on the table to Iran, important offers. One is that uranium enrichment could take place and be on offer for people wanting to develop civil nuclear power, there is a proposal for a uranium bank and there is a proposal that uranium enrichment takes place in another country but is made available to Iran and other countries in the region. There are many proposals on the table that would allow Iran to meet any ambition it has for civil nuclear power while at the same time joining the international community, and really the offer to Iran is: "Abide by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and we will offer you cultural, economic and political co-operation for the future, but break the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and we have no alternative but to pursue sanctions."

  Q94  Mike Gapes: But the sanctions that already exist—and our Foreign Affairs Committee were in Iran a few weeks ago—are very limited. They are clearly and visibly not having any major impact on the Iranian economy in society and there has been opposition within the Security Council for strengthening sanctions; so is there any real prospect that there will be a change of regime behaviour by the Iranian Government even if there is a stronger sanctions regime?

  Mr Brown: I appreciate that you have been in the region very recently, but the evidence that we have is that sanctions are having an effect. We are prepared to intensify sanctions, including in the oil and gas industry, and intensifying the financial sanctions in relation to Iran. I think there is wider support in the international community for doing so than you are suggesting by the statement you made at the end of the words that you uttered a few seconds ago, and I think we can persuade other countries to join us to intensify the sanctions. Remember, the issue is if the world has a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and if by agreement people stand by that treaty, then for countries that break that treaty and fail to disclose that they are breaking that treaty, we have a right to take the action that is necessary to try to bring them back into line, and sanctions have been the chosen course.

  Q95  Mike Gapes: I understand that, but is it not true that the big problem with Iran is actually that this is a revolutionary regime that yearns for international legitimacy, and the big thing they want is for the United States to accept their existence and because the US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979 and because Iran is seeking to feel that somehow it is existing and accepted in the world, that there is an alternative approach which might have more effect to strengthen the more moderate and pragmatic voices in the society, which is a very dynamic, young, pluralistic society with a theocratic cap on the top and that somehow, by the rhetoric and by the sanctions, we may only be strengthening Mr Ahmadinejad and the hardliners and those who take the more conservative approach rather than the prospect of engagement, as the EU did, which coincided with the period of the halt to the programme?

  Mr Brown: I think you make a powerful case that there are divisions within Iran and that there will be people who are not happy about the position that Iran has been taking in secretly developing a uranium enrichment programme. I think that sanctions will bring to the surface some of these divisions that are actually there already within the Iranian regime, but I do also say to you, if you want to rejoin the international community and to have the status that a country that has the traditions and history of Iran should have, then the best way of going about it is not to break the international community's Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and to do so in a secret way over many years, and the best way for Iran to come back to the international community in the way you suggest and to build up support round the world and to have the cultural, economic and political context that I want to see is for Iran to come into line with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and suspend the original programme or find a way by which uranium enrichment can take place to promote a civil nuclear programme but perhaps enrichment taking place outside the country rather than inside it.

  Q96  Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, would it not be helpful if the US was to intensify its dialogue with Iran with a view to developing diplomatic relations at some point, because at the moment there is almost no contact between the United States and Iran?

  Mr Brown: I think the world community wishes to see Iran brought back, as you rightly say, into the international community in a way where there is cultural, political and economic contact that is to the benefit of the world and to the people of Iran, but I think you have got to start by dealing with the problem that we have, and the problem that we have is, in breach of all its international obligations, Iran has been developing a uranium enrichment programme which is not, it seems, for the purposes of civil nuclear power, and until we can get a solution to that particular problem, then it is likely that the rest of the world community will want to impose sanctions.

  Q97  Malcolm Bruce: Just on that, Prime Minister, the main democratic opposition to the Iranian regime is the People's Mujahideen organisation of Iran, which has been proscribed in this country. The proscribed organisation's appeals committee have said that they are not involved in terrorism and that the refusal of the Home Secretary to de-proscribe them was flawed, perverse and must be set aside. Why does the Government not accept that?

  Mr Brown: I have looked at that issue that you raise. It is certainly, however, the case that the organisation that you describe has been, in the past, involved in terrorist activity, and I do not think there is any doubt about the evidence that that has been the case. Therefore, to proscribe an organisation that has been involved in terrorist activity seems the right thing to do by the decisions of this Government to be consistent with other decisions that we make.

  Q98  Malcolm Bruce: We have accepted sometimes that terrorist organisations can change their ways?

  Mr Brown: But I do not think we have that evidence.

  Malcolm Bruce: Another item that is very much in the news at the moment and is likely to be watched closely over Christmas is developments in Kosovo. Can I ask Mike Gapes to deal with that?

  Q99  Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, you are going to Lisbon, where there will no doubt be a discussion with other EU leaders about how to deal with the fact that the UN deadline of December 10 expired, that there was no agreement between the troika, that the incoming Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr Tachi, intends to have a unilateral declaration of independence. There are divisions in the European Union. Are you expecting a united statement out of Lisbon?

  Mr Brown: Yes, and I think we have already seen that the foreign ministers have made advances in that area. I think the way forward is supervised independence. I do think that the Kosovans are to be applauded for not reacting in a way that would make it impossible or difficult for us to get the agreements for the future, and I hope that Serbia will come to an understanding that its wish to be part of the European community of nations means that it should accommodate what is the legitimate desire of the Kosovan people; so a supervised form of independence is how we see the next stage.

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