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James Purnell: My hon. Friend is right to say that one of the big challenges here is to give advisers the flexibility and skills to help people in the right way. I am sorry that he feels that his constituent was not treated properly by the Department. Those decisions are taken independently of Ministers—that has always been the case—but I am happy to look into the case that he has
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raised. We need to ensure that people are treated according to their personal circumstances, and not according to whichever group of claimants they happen to be in. This is exactly what the Gregg review is about, and I hope that it will work on that issue.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Secretary of State not being too soft in his approach to the dependency culture, particularly in relation to drug abuse? It sounds as though there is going to be a reward for drug abusers. Why is he not extending the treatment for drug abusers to alcohol abusers? Will he take my assurance that not all Glasgow Members of Parliament take the view that they have to stand up for rascals and chancers? We believe that the Scottish Government should be supporting this initiative from Westminster—even though it is from Westminster—to help decent people into employment.

James Purnell: I know that I shall need the help of the Opposition in the coming rebellion over how we are not being tough enough on drug users, and perhaps the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) will be able to help me with that. I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the approach that we are taking, and I know that he also supports what Glasgow city council is doing on apprenticeships and getting people back into work. We have announced today that that area is going to have one of the pilots for the DEL-AME projects that we are introducing.

My hon. Friend mentioned drug users. We are prepared to look at including alcoholics, but it is harder to identify people who have alcohol problems. If he has any suggestions on how to do that, we would be happy to look at them. We offer specific help to people who self-identify, but if there are better ways of doing that, we will be happy to look into them. This is not about giving more help to people who are drug users; it is about ensuring that they go into treatment rather than just taking the money and spending it on drugs.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I very much welcome the clarification from the Secretary of State that the Gregg review’s proposals for lone parents whose children have reached the age of one will not involve forcing them to go out and find work immediately, but will instead involve preparing for work. One of the best ways for such people to prepare for work might be to go into full-time education, but at the moment the system penalises them if, for example, they want to go to university full time rather than working part time. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, as part of the review, he will ensure that people who want to do a full-time university course will not lose their other associated benefits, and that they will not be treated like a normal student? In that way, they will be able to take their course and, when their child reaches the age of seven, they will be able to have a decent career rather than a job that pays only the minimum wage.

James Purnell: I am relatively confident that the answer to that question is yes, but if it is not, I will write to my hon. Friend. People who are on JSA get different treatment from those on lone parent benefits, and that gives people the ability to study at the same time as claiming income support. I will write to my hon. Friend if that is not correct.

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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Under the last Conservative Government, those who were unemployed got almost no help. They were either shovelled on to incapacity benefit or expected to take jobs as security guards at £1 an hour—or, if they were lucky, they were able to join one of those wonderful job clubs. Under the Labour Government, the world of work has been transformed. We have a national minimum wage, increased health and safety, increased employment rights, increased trade union rights—although not enough, I believe—and the £40 premium for single parents. People also have a lot of help with child care, and those who are in work are generally better off through tax credits. Will my right hon. Friend assure me, however, that the reforms that he has outlined today—which I broadly support—will be dealt with sensitively? These are very sensitive issues for people.

James Purnell: Absolutely. One of the biggest challenges will be to ensure that our advisers are up to the challenge of ensuring that the reforms are implemented in a sensitive way.

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Points of Order

1.38 pm

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise this point of order while the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is still in his place. Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the Buncefield disaster in my constituency, and it will also see the conclusion of the health and safety inquiry chaired by Lord Newton. I praise Lord Newton and his team for the work that they have done. However, this means that, from tomorrow, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will no longer be responsible for that part of my constituency that has been destroyed. Many homes there are still uninhabitable and thousands of people are unable to return to their business premises, either because they have been levelled or because they are in a dangerous condition. Mr. Speaker, has any Minister told you that they intend to come to the House, three years after the disaster, to take responsibility for the rebuilding of my constituency, following a disaster that had nothing to do with any of my constituents?

Mr. Speaker: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that that is not a point of order, but what happened three years ago was a tragic situation. I can understand that any constituency Member of Parliament would want to highlight the problems that still exist three years on. I suggest that he applies for an Adjournment debate, to which the appropriate Minister could come to the Floor of the House to respond.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made a written statement to the House concerning the closure programme of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices. Of the Lerwick office in my constituency, it was said that it was to be retained, as the

Since that statement was made, however, I have learned that, of the three staff employed in that office, two are now to be deployed in another Government Department, and a third—the last remaining HMRC employee in my constituency—is to be transferred to the Inverness office. If that is not a closure, Mr. Speaker, I do not know what is. What can you do to protect my constituents when Government Departments go about their business in this way, which, to say the very least, lacks the candour that we are entitled to expect?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has put his remarks on the record. I hope that the appropriate Ministers read them and take note of his concern.

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Debate on the Address

[4th Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 8 December) .

Question again proposed,

Foreign Affairs and Defence

1.40 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I am delighted to introduce this annual debate on the Gracious Speech, not least as the amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition does not mention foreign affairs or, indeed, any queries or questions about or condemnations of the Government’s foreign affairs policy. I look forward to a debate that I can only assume will be more akin to a senior common room discussion than what sometimes passes for debate in the House of Commons. I hope that the House will understand that no discourtesy is intended when I leave the Chamber to spend two hours before the Foreign Affairs Committee later this afternoon, which means that I will not be able to hear all the speeches.

Every year seems like an important year in foreign policy, but 2009 promises what I think will be a unique combination of dangers and opportunities. The dangers are a global economic crisis, an unremitting terrorist threat, a closing window of opportunity to bring a two-state solution to the middle east, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and, in Africa, crises in Somalia, Sudan, Congo and Zimbabwe. It would be a mistake, however, to become so mired in challenges that we overlook the opportunities—not least a new US Administration who are committed to joint action on shared priorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, on climate change and global warming, and on nuclear non-proliferation and international institutional reform.

Five foreign policy priorities will guide the Government’s work. In all of them, we depend on the bravery, intelligence and dedication of soldiers, diplomats and aid workers. Many are at risk, and 305 members of our armed forces have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are truly in their debt and that of their families for their patriotism, their public service and their internationalism.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in his speech. He talks about soldiers, diplomats and aid workers, but there is concern among Opposition Members that there is not enough co-ordination between those three elements, particularly at ministerial level. The Secretary of State will be aware that this year has been the bloodiest ever in Afghanistan; in August there were 46 fatalities. There is a concern that we do not know who is in charge of Government strategy when it comes to Afghanistan. Is it the Prime Minister, is it the Foreign Secretary, is it the Secretary of State for
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International Development or is it the Secretary of State for Defence? It is time that that one person who is in charge of the overall strategy, which I understand is about to change, came here on a regular basis to give us a proper update.

David Miliband: It is, of course, the Prime Minister who is in overall charge— [Interruption.] It is the Prime Minister. I would never stand at this Dispatch Box and say that it is impossible for the Government to improve their co-ordination, especially in such a difficult area, but having visited Afghanistan, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that on the ground, military forces, diplomats and aid workers are working very closely together. The biggest credit for that goes to them, but it does not happen by accident. For example, the new combined civil-military operation in Helmand, which I visited last month, is a demonstration of the commitment on the three Departments going together. It is also a demonstration of what we mean by a comprehensive approach, because they are working on the security, on the politics and the economics, and they are doing so with the Afghan forces, including Afghans elected to Government positions. As I said, I would never claim that there was no room for improvement, which is why the Prime Minister said last week that it is important to review our strategy, but I honestly say to the hon. Gentleman that levels of co-ordination are unmatched in the experience of people who have worked for a long time in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): In that case, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why no Minister is directly responsible for the stabilisation unit?

David Miliband: Precisely because it is a joint unit between the three Departments. By definition, if it is a joint unit, it reports to Ministers of all three Departments—

Mr. Ellwood: How do we hold it to account?

David Miliband: It is held to account by asking all of us about it, which Opposition Members quite rightly do. We are all accountable for it and we will all answer for it. If the stabilisation unit answered to only one Secretary of State, I would be here explaining why the other Secretaries of State were not also responsible for its efforts. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) asked for co-ordination, and that is what we are trying to give him.

Let me talk at the outset about counter-terrorism, because the terrifying events in Mumbai a fortnight ago were a reminder that global interconnectedness brings not just shared economic risk, but shared security risk. People of all races and religions were targeted; British nationals were held captive; Indian communities in the UK were worried about family members’ safety. After the attacks, we dispatched a consular rapid deployment team to assist British nationals. We will continue to work with the Indian police and law enforcement agencies to investigate the crime and better secure that important country for the future.

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Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most chilling aspects of the terrorist attack was that the terrorists specifically sought out Jews in order to attack them? Does he agree that that needs to be condemned, particularly by people of Christian, Islamic and other religions?

David Miliband: I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the herding of staff and their family members from the Jewish centre in Mumbai into the heart of that centre and their killing was a completely atrocious event. I share with him the view that it is important that, whatever our religion, we condemn the killing of people of other religions. At the NATO Mediterranean meeting last week, it was striking to hear the French Foreign Minister explain to Arab colleagues that the two French people killed in Mumbai were both Muslim. That brought home to people the fact that at one level these were random attacks that killed people of all religions, as well as the fact that the targeting of the Jewish centre was particularly chilling. I of course share the right hon. Gentleman’s condemnation of it.

Our first focus in the battle against extremism remains Afghanistan and Pakistan. The federally administered tribal areas and the border region are a crucible of insecurity and instability. President-elect Obama has identified the region as a top priority when he assumes office on 20 January, so in 2009 we will work with our allies and with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to strengthen democratic government.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Given that there is much talk of increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, which I visited two weeks ago, what realistic hope is there of some of our coalition partners other than America putting forward troops, particularly on the front line, and not just relying on the US and the UK?

David Miliband: I will certainly come on to that, but it is good news that the French and Germans have increased their numbers. It is also striking that the Polish Government have promised to increase their numbers as well. It is certainly an issue that we need to address, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree, particularly as he has been to Afghanistan, that the greatest source of increasing numbers of troops will in the end come from Afghanistan itself. That is why the training and mentoring that I am about to mention are particularly important.

In Afghanistan, foreign troops will continue to be needed to provide the space for diplomatic and civilian efforts and to face down the insurgency. Of 50,000 NATO troops on the ground, 8,100 are British forces, making us the second largest military contributor. If we want to build Afghanistan’s capacity to defend itself, which is after all why we are there, we need to focus on the training and mentoring of the Afghan national army. We have already helped to train about 65,000 members of the Afghan army. Whenever I have been to Afghanistan, it has struck me that the greatest testimony to those troops comes from our own forces who talk about going on patrol with Afghan forces and about the trust they have in them. As I said, we have already helped to train 65,000 members of the Afghan army,
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and over the next few years the plan is to double that figure. On the Pakistan side of the border, which I will try to emphasise on each of the four points I want to make about our strategy, we have also supported military-to-military contacts.

The second priority is to uphold the rule of law on both sides of the border. That is, by any estimate, more difficult than training the Afghan national army. Anyone who has been to Afghanistan will know that the problems in the police force outstrip even those on the army side. A strong police force and an independent judiciary, accepted by the population, are critical to building confidence in non-violent means of redress and in the Government themselves. We are supplying mentors to the EU police mission in Afghanistan who train police in criminal investigation skills. One important priority is to improve co-ordination between the European force there and the NATO attempts, under the district policing plan, to improve the quality of training, to ensure that police are trained for the challenges they will face in Afghanistan, which are at the very tough end of what policing is about.

It is also worth saying that we are working with the Government in Islamabad to extend the rule of law in Pakistan’s tribal belt. One striking feature of the Pakistan army’s efforts in the Bajaur area over the past three or four months is hearing it talk about the co-ordination with the international security assistance force on the other side of the border. That is the sort of joint operation that we need to see.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary spare a moment to expand on our improving, or otherwise, relationship with the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence?

David Miliband: The important thing to say is that big changes are going on within the Pakistani armed forces, led by the new Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani, whom I met in Islamabad two weeks ago. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a new head of the ISI, General Pasha. The appropriate thing to say is that reform is obviously needed in that institution. We strongly want to support that reform. It is also strongly supported by the civilian Government. It is vital that, with a new civilian Government in Islamabad, it is clear to their population and to the international community that they have control over all aspects of the state machine in Pakistan, because otherwise people will lose faith in democratic government.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On the civilian Government, is the Secretary of State having discussions with American colleagues about the use of a lot of the American aid that goes into Pakistan, which is also meant to go into the tribal areas, to ensure that it is used for rebuilding infrastructure?

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