Examination of Witness (Questions 160-179)|
3 JULY 2008
Q160 Sir Patrick Cormack: Thank God
it is not!
Mr Brown: I think you will find
in relation to these issues, both succession and other related
issues, that the support for change has got to be wider than the
United Kingdom Parliament for change to actually happen. The Queen
is not simply the Queen of the United Kingdom, she is queen of
many of the Commonwealth countries. I think any changes would
have to be discussed at a far wider level than simply the United
Kingdom Parliament before you could get agreement.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Thank you very much
for that, Prime Minister. Could I now bring in Edward Leigh, who
I know would like to ask a particular question?
Q161 Mr Leigh: I want to ask a couple
of supplementaries arising from what Mr Vaz and Sir Patrick asked
you. Mr Vaz asked you if any inducements had been given to the
Democratic Ulster Unionists, and you quite correctly enumerated
their personal experience of terrorism, but I want to ask you
a direct question: there were absolutely no discussions about
anything with the DUP except the merits or otherwise of the 42-day
legislation? You just have to give a yes or no answer.
Mr Brown: Yes, and there was a
great deal of discussion, including about the security issues.
Q162 Mr Leigh: There was no discussion
about any other issue apart from the 42 days? You have to say
yes or no.
Mr Brown: We were discussing the
Q163 Mr Leigh: Only, you were only
discussing the 42 days?
Mr Brown: We were producing security
information. That is absolutely right. We were discussing the
issue on its merits, and I think you do a great disservice to
many members of this House of Commons if you suggest otherwise.
Q164 Mr Leigh: I just wanted to get
that absolutely clear. Thank you. In relation to what Sir Patrick
was asking you about the powers of Parliament, obviously there
are shifting sands in the economy and we do not know how long
you are going to be there. What do you want to leave as your legacy
in terms of constitutional renewal and the powers of Parliament?
Do you think that the powers of this Parliament are relatively
weak compared to the Executive? Here you are surrounded by chairmen
of select committees. Do you think that you would like to move
gradually to a system where, for instance, the Defence Committee
have the same sort of powers eventually as the Armed Services
Committee and Congress? I know it is a long step, but what are
your views on this?
Mr Brown: I want a new set-up
in Britain where we strengthen the role of the individual citizen
through the power that Parliament has to represent their interests,
and I feel that by changing the royal prerogative and by making
many of the other changes that we are talking about, including
a bill of rights and responsibilities and a statement of values,
we move our country more thoroughly into the modern world. Removing
all these areas where the royal prerogative has been exercised
in the past is only the first stage, the discussion of the bill
of rights and responsibilities is a further stage, and I have
always left open the question that this could lead to a discussion
in our country of a written constitution at some stage.
Q165 Mr Leigh: I was specifically
asking you about the powers of the select committees. Obviously
our audit system is very good in this country. The scrutiny of
the Budget is weaker, we know that. You have been Chancellor of
the Exchequer for ten years. The Finance Committee has very little
time to discuss these amendments. Do you think we could learn
from other jurisdictions about how we could create a more powerful
budget committee that actually could look at spending plans, with
your experience as Prime Minister?
Mr Brown: I think traditionally
in Britain, partly because of what happened with the Budget in
the early years of the twentieth century when the Budget was rejected
by the House of Lords, the Government's ability to get its budget
through has been seen as a very major issue about the credibility
of the Government itself. So the Budget in Britain has been seen
quite differently from budgets in many other countries. I think
the House of Commons itself could do more, and members could do
more, if they wish to scrutinise both the expenditure and the
finance measures of government, and I do not think there is anything
preventing the House of Commons taking a bigger interest in these
matters. You are Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. We
have here the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee. I have
always thought that it is possible for more investigations to
be done, for more information to be provided, and I have tried
to make that possible when I was Chancellor and will try to make
that possible in future, but the more information that is out
there in the open the better.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Sir Alan has one
more question to ask you.
Q166 Sir Alan Beith: How can a constitutional
renewal bill meet the ambitions which you have quite rightly set
for it, despite all the useful things in it, if it does not address
the centralisation of power, fixed-term parliaments, the electoral
system, all of those issues, which would, if altered, change the
real balance between the Executive and the Legislature?
Mr Brown: I think it depends what
you think is absolutely crucial to the future of our constitution.
Surely what is crucial to the future of our constitution is that
the individual citizen feels more empowered, and we are bringing
forward proposals in the next few weeks with a local government
reform that will give the individual citizen far more power to
petition, far more power to question, far more powers of recall
in relation to many of the issues that affect their lives, and
then the second issue is the powers of Parliament itself. I do
not think the powers of the House of Commons in particular start
and end with whether there is a fixed-term parliament or whether
there is electoral reform. These are two of the issues, but these
are not the major issues. I think the changes we are making about
the declaration of war, the dissolution of Parliament, the recall
of Parliament, the ratification of international treaties are
very important issues.
Q167 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister,
we do know all that. We are moving to the end of this session.
I would like to ask you one final question on the constitution.
There was a little bit of argy-bargy between you and the former
leader or the Labour Party in Scotland over whether there should
or should not be a referendum and whether it should be brought
on or put off. Where do you stand on that?
Mr Brown: In terms of that, there
was no wish on the part of the Scottish Parliament at that time
to bring forward a bill for a referendum.
Q168 Sir Patrick Cormack: Where do
Mr Brown: We have set up the Carman
Commission. I do not know if you know the details of that. Professor
Carman is chairing the Commission.
Q169 Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sure
he is, but where do you stand?
Mr Brown: Hold on. It involves
all the major parties. They are looking at the outcome of the
devolution arrangements over these past few years in Scotland.
They will make a report. If they make far-reaching proposals,
we will then have to look at them in the context of what support
you have for the public do so, but I think we should wait until
we see the Carman Report.
Q170 Sir Patrick Cormack: So you
are not prepared to give an opinion at the moment.
Mr Brown: I think you have got
to wait see whether the Carman Report recommends major changes,
which in the original Scottish Parliament was voted through by
a referendum of the Scottish people that was organised by the
United Kingdom Parliament, but let us wait and see what the Carman
Sir Patrick Cormack: Thank you very much.
Chairman: We now move to the second theme,
global economic issues. Malcolm Bruce.
Q171 Malcolm Bruce: Thank you very
much, Chairman. Prime Minister, the Treasury published a document
a couple of weeks ago on commodity prices and their implications.
There is one bald statement that says, "High commodity prices
negatively affect the popularity of governments", which is
something you have experienced. Prime Minister, you are rather
fond of lists. Can I put some lists to you? Forty years ago the
population of the world was three billion. It is currently 6.7
billion and it is predicted to be 9.1 billion by 2050. The World
Bank says that we will need to increase grain production by 50
per cent by 2030 and the International Energy Association says
we need to increase oil production by 30.5 billion barrels a day
(that is 15 North Seas) by 2030. In those circumstances, first
of all, is there anything we should be doing to try and level
off the world population, or do we just have to accept it as a
given? Do you not think, in this situation, that there is a real
possibility that in a generation the world could actually run
out of oil and food to meet the needs and aspirations of the population
of the world?
Mr Brown: Let us put this in context.
You are absolutely right about the population rises, but in the
last ten years we have had two of the great benefits of globalisation,
which have been cheap consumer prices for goods like electronics
and clothes, and we have had low interest rates as a result of
the low inflation that has come out of low manufacturing prices
from China and elsewhere. We are now seeing the two difficulties.
That is the massive restructuring that is taking place in the
world economy, a shift of power to Asia is obviously happening
and there is pressure on resources. Some people have called it
resource nationalism. There is pressure on food, pressure on oil,
pressure on commodities, and I think we have got to deal with
these as global problems that now require global solutions, and
although we can do a great deal in the United Kingdom, and other
countries can do so, to deal with the costs of energy or to deal
with the problem of food shortages, in the end these are global
problems that require global action. If you take, first of all,
food, it is pretty clear to me that there is a food shortage,
the worst for 30 years; it is pretty clear also that we will need
to increase food production. One of the great tragedies of our
time is that Africa is a net importer of food when it could actually
be a net producer, or exporter, of food. At this time the worst
thing we could do is to cut the support to developing countries,
preventing them from developing their agricultural systems, and
we will have to make progress on the removal of the food subsidies
in what is a very protected market.
Q172 Malcolm Bruce: I was going to
say, Prime Minister, your document, the Treasury's document, seems
to me to say that just by applying international co-operation
and market forces will bring supply and demand into balance and
that is fine. Do you not accept it is an underlying pressure that
cannot ultimately be delivered on an ever rising scale unless
we find other ways to deal with it?
Mr Brown: I think that is absolutely
true. When I talk about oilyou mentioned the IEA's proposals
about oilI think it is reducing our dependence on oil that
makes the environmental imperative about climate change come together
with an economic imperative, which is that we must reduce the
world's dependence on this one fuel, or oil and gas if we put
them both together. In Britain's case we will soon be 80 per cent
dependent for gas imports on other countries, and that is not
a situation we want to be in. It is ultimately a decision about,
first of all, nuclear power, secondly about renewables and how
we can expand renewables and, thirdly, about greater energy efficiency,
and the agenda, which is an economic as well as environmental
agenda, for the world is now very clear indeed. We have a once
in a generation opportunity to reduce our dependence on oil and
we will have to take big strategic decisions, and these include
decisions that other countries as well as us, because we have
made these decisions about nuclear energy, have got to make decisions
about the stimulation of renewables. We will soon become the world's
biggest off-shore wind producers, as a result of the decisions
that we made in the North Sea, and we will have to make decisions
about energy efficiency, and that is about cars and it is about
the efficiency of the use of energy in households. These are three
major changes that arise from what we see both round the world
and the rising oil price itself.
Q173 Malcolm Bruce: We had a once-in-a-generation
opportunity to get out of oil dependency in the 1970s and we did
not do it.
Mr Brown: We did reduce our dependence
on oil, but not sufficiently, and there are signs in America and
in Europe that the usage of oil will be reduced, but we are dealing
with a massive expansion in demand for oil from China, from India
and from Asia. China has got about 37 million cars at the moment.
Every year another 10 billion, or so, cars are being bought for
Chinese roads. They are building 100 airports at the moment, they
are building 1,000 cities, so the demand for oil from them and
from the oil producers, because a very substantial amount of the
oil that is being produced at the moment is being consumed with
subsidies in either China or India or in the oil-producing countries,
and it is one of the most protected markets and it has got to
be opened up.
Q174 Malcolm Bruce: Can I move you
on to food. One of the reasons why food prices are rising is the
rising living standards of, for example, the Chinese and the Indians.
They are actually having a better diet.
Mr Brown: Which is itself a good
Q175 Malcolm Bruce: That is a good
thing, but Bob Zoellick, the President of the World Bank, has
stated that the increase in food prices has put between 73 and
105 million people back into poverty this year, wiping out all
of the aid and development that the world has delivered over the
last seven years. Is not the reality that the rising living standards
of the Chinese and the Indians is actually increasing poverty
in other parts of the world?
Mr Brown: That is why I would
go to the G8 with a proposal that we increase the support for
agricultural production in developing countries, that all the
G8 and other countries are prepared to help the Africans particularly
but other countries invest in increasing both the production and
the productivity of their agriculture where, of course, the ability
to use fertilizers and other means by which productivity is improved
has been limited. In other words, we need another new green revolution
in the developing countries to enable them to produce what they
will need for the future, but that will cost money and I think
it is important to recognise that this will be the wrong time
to cut aid to developing countries, even though we are in difficult
circumstances ourselves, and so are the other industrialised countries,
because of the rise in oil and food prices. It would be in the
short-term and long-term a huge mistake to cut that aid.
Malcolm Bruce: You know I would agree
with you on that, Prime Minister.
Q176 Michael Connarty: Welcome, Prime
Minister. Can I turn to international organisations, which I know
you have been very involved in trying to direct and encourage
over the last period? Specifically for the EU, I wonder, not philosophically
but in reality, in terms of action, what the UK expect the European
Union to do. It does appear to me, it has been said that the people
in the developed world complain when food prices rise but that
people in the poor parts of the world starve. We seem to have
in the EU a greedy, selfish club in the reactions that have come
recently to the limited efforts made by the trade commissioner
to reorganise the arrangements worldwide. There is criticism from
aid organisations about the limited changes to the CAP arrangements,
but what we have had is a reaction from the EU of selfishness.
Can we really look for anything from the EU other than protectionism,
this new economic patriotism, it is called, in the face of what
are internationally devastating changes to food prices?
Mr Brown: I am happy to join you
in criticism of the Common Agricultural Policy, which we along
with some other countries want to change fundamentally, but I
do not think you should fail to recognise that the European Union
is the world's leader in development aid, not selfish, but the
leader in development aid, that we are the leader in climate change
reform, pressing the rest of the world to take the action that
is necessary for a sustainable environment.
Q177 Michael Connarty: In the last
Mr Brown: In the last year, and
the European Union is also leading in seeking a trade deal. The
problems of the trade deal are not those created by the European
Union, which is prepared to reduce its tariffs, but we must persuade
the other continents to take the action which is commensurate
with it, and so at the moment we need to get a deal with the Brazilians
and with the South American and Latin American group of countries
about the aid that they give to the manufacturing industry. We
need to cement what are the proposals from the Americans about
reducing agricultural subsidies and, of course, we need to be
sure that we are helping the developing countries, because it
is a development round that we are proposing for trade. I have
said we are a few minutes before midnight. If we cannot get a
trade deal in the next few weeks, I think it may elude us for
many, many months if not longer and it may, indeed, be a trade
deal that, if we cannot get, suggests that these multilateral
trade deals are not going to be easy at all to get in the future.
So there is a great responsibility on the shoulders of the G8
when it meets next week. There are then the ministerial talks
that are taking place on 21 July organised by the world trade
negotiation of Pascal Lamy, and I think we have got to show, in
a world that is becoming increasingly protectionist, as you rightly
say, that we are capable of standing up to that and showing that
the world is, on a multilateral basis, capable of reaching an
agreement on trade.
Q178 Michael Connarty: Unfortunately,
my understanding and perception of the EU over the last ten years
is that we have failed to do that, we have failed to get the CAP
properly reformed and possibly abolished, and it is very difficult
to go elsewhere and say, "You should bring down your trade
barriers", when in fact we have clearly done a deal that
leaves them in place within the EU?
Mr Brown: Can I say on that, very
briefly, that the European Union is offering to reduce its tariffs
very substantially indeed, and I think that the European Union
has shown itself willing to agree a trade deal and we must get
that trade deal over the next few weeks.
Q179 Michael Connarty: And for doing
so you get attacked by the French President.
Mr Brown: I think it is important
to recognise that the EU negotiating position is one that the
whole European Union has supported.