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21 Jan 2009 : Column 741

Mr. Woodward: I am sure that all hon. Members would wish to express their gratitude to the men and women of the PSNI. It remains a matter of fact that the greatest threat to those officers, as expressed in the last year, has come from those paramilitary criminal organisations such as the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. They are the organisations that have despicably, and in a cowardly way, attacked police officers at traffic lights when they were dropping off their children at school. They have fired shots into the chest of one police officer who is very lucky still to be alive. In another case, an explosive device was placed under an officer’s car and his partner was nearly murdered by it. PSNI members do very brave things for the people of Northern Ireland and this country every day, and we will do everything we can to protect the lives of those brave men and women.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that loyalist or republican paramilitary activity is unacceptable. Will he look again at extending this decommissioning period, because not a single political party in Northern Ireland wants it, and many of the police from whom I have had communications certainly do not want it? Is it not a very delicate matter to permit a further extension when we know that decommissioning is necessary and not to decommission is unacceptable?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the very delicate balance on whether we will achieve more by renewing the order for a final 12 months—and it is a final 12 months—or by moving in the other direction. As I say, I have decided, on balance, that we should proceed in that way, but this is based on very specific advice from the commission. If that advice should result in an act of decommissioning, I say to the hon. Gentleman that if my not renewing the order were to result in those weapons not being destroyed and put for ever beyond use, I think we would be failing the people whom we are actually trying to protect.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend not aware of the major concerns in nationalist communities among those who want to see the peace process move on—for example, by removing the peace walls—about the thought that there are loyalist paramilitaries with weapons preventing those developments? Will he reconsider his decision?

Mr. Woodward: As I have said to the House, given the very specific advice I am being given by the commission that it is currently engaged in meaningful dialogue that will result in weapons being removed from the streets, if that is our goal, it would be very foolish of me to ignore that strong advice.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber; it is unfair to hon. Members.

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

May I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the bravery of the PSNI in the work it does? Does he not think, however, that that bravery deserves a bit
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more than a few nods and winks from these thugs and racketeers before he is prepared to extend for a further 12 months the 11 years that they have already had to decommission their weapons? He knows that we have rarely departed from our support for the Government in the peace process, but I put him on notice today that unless he comes up with something more substantial than he has done so far, he will put this measure through without any support from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Mr. Woodward: I hear the word of warning from the hon. Gentleman, and I take it seriously, but I would simply say this to him: we have succeeded in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland by all the political parties in this House working together. It is through that work that we have established the various bodies that have supervised and brought about the continuing peace process. If it is the view of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning that we should prevail for 12 more months because it is currently engaged in meaningful discussions, I would urge him to think a second time as to whether now, rather than in the last 10 years, he chooses to ignore not my advice, but the advice of the commission.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Eleven years on from the agreement, it is unacceptable that there are armed gangs operating in any part of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has just mentioned new evidence that has convinced him that the amnesty should be extended. Will he give us some of that evidence now?

Mr. Woodward: The purpose of sharing with the House the advice from the Decommissioning Commission is to encourage Members of this House to listen very carefully to that advice, as well as to me. I am not in a position to disclose the commission’s current negotiations, but I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that there are channels available to him through which I am prepared, and happy, to engage.

Mr. Paterson: The Chief Constable has consistently said that anyone who has guns should give them up immediately. One officer has been shot in the back, and five have had to be rehoused. By extending the amnesty period, the Government are letting down local communities and the police who are trying to protect them. These are parasitical gangsters, drug dealers and protection racketeers. They do not deserve another extension. As we are strongly opposed to what is proposed, will the right hon. Gentleman consider withdrawing this statutory instrument?

Mr. Woodward: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has a hearing difficulty, but as I have just explained to him, it is advice to us from the commission that has ensured that, on balance, we have made this decision. In my last answer, I made the offer to the hon. Gentleman to discuss further details with him, through the usual channels, but if he really thinks it would be helpful for me to make public now the content of discussions that might result in guns being removed from the streets, I have to question what his motives are. If his motive is to remove the guns, I suggest that he listens to the advice from the commission. On the other hand, if his intention is simply to proceed with a decision he made before that information emerged, I am afraid that even I am unable to help him.

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Bombardier Project

4. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the Bombardier project. [248302]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): For the purposes of clarification, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that Bombardier is not a project; it is actually a global aviation company that has been, and continues to be, very successful around the world, not least in Belfast, where its pioneering new project will create up to 1,200 new jobs, and up to almost 3,000 new jobs in the UK as a whole.

Mr. Robathan: An article in The Guardian on 31 December had the headline, “DUP was rewarded by government for backing 42 days, claims first minister”. According to the article, he said that

He also said that the Government

Whatever the merits of this investment, does not the Secretary of State agree that this smells of pork barrel politics at its worst and without principle?

Mr. Woodward: It is perhaps encouraging to see that the hon. Gentleman now takes to reading his information about Northern Ireland in The Guardian. Clearly the one big difference between his party and the Labour party is that what we were prepared to do consistently since 2004 with Bombardier was to hold discussions to see how we could help bring jobs to Northern Ireland. Significantly, thanks to the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government since 2004, which has allowed the company to secure the investment that has come to Northern Ireland, up to 1,000 new jobs will come to Northern Ireland. I am very sorry that where the Conservatives will do nothing, we will secure the jobs for the future.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [249482] Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 21 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the brave families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan in the past week—Captain Tom Sawyer, Corporal Danny Winter and Corporal Richard Robinson. They were courageous and committed men, who were dedicated to their country, to their colleagues and to the cause of peace. We owe them and all who have lost their lives our gratitude for their service and sacrifice, and we will remember them with pride.

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I know that the whole House and the British people will wish to join the Government in sending their best wishes to President Obama at the start of his presidency. I can assure the whole House that we will maintain and strengthen the special relationship between our two countries. The importance that President Obama places on urgent action on the economic recovery, on environmental stewardship and on the fact that citizenship carries with it responsibilities as well as rights will have a resonance in every part of the world.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Carswell: Why is the Prime Minister whipping his party to vote to keep MPs’ expenses secret? When it comes to freedom of information, why should there be one law for the people and another for the politicians?

The Prime Minister: I should tell the hon. Gentleman the real facts: our proposals are for more transparency than the Conservative party’s proposals were and for more transparency than is the case in most Parliaments in the world. That is why we will publish a revised Green Book with clear rules, and there will be enhanced audit by the National Audit Office. We will put the proposals to the House on a free vote. We thought we had agreement on the implications of the Freedom of Information Act as part of this wider package. Recently, the support that we believed we had from the main Opposition party was withdrawn. I believe that all-party support is important on this particular matter, on which we will continue to consult.

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): Tuesday 27 January is Holocaust memorial day, and events will be taking place across the country. What will my right hon. Friend be doing to mark and to commemorate the occasion? Will he join me in commending the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does so much to educate and inform our young people about the horrors of the holocaust?

The Prime Minister: To commemorate Holocaust memorial day, there will be a debate in this House next Thursday. I was very privileged to be involved with the original funding of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s work in education, which enables us to send, from schools in every part of the country, young men and women to see for themselves at first hand what happened at Auschwitz and then to report back to their fellow students in their schools and colleges. This is an important contribution in ensuring that people will never forget the millions of lives lost as a result of anti-Semitism, prejudice and discrimination.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the three servicemen who have been killed in Afghanistan in the past week—Captain Tom Sawyer, Corporal Danny Winter and acting Corporal Richard Robinson? Our thoughts should be with their families at this time.

I agree with the Prime Minister that the whole House will be united in sending our best wishes to President Obama, who starts work with the good will of people throughout the world.

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Today’s rise in unemployment of 78,000 in a single month reminds us of the recession’s real effect on families throughout the country. With the pound falling, debt rising, and new forecasts showing that our recession will be deeper than elsewhere, it is clear that the British economy faces dark days indeed. Does the Prime Minister accept that the market and public reaction to the latest set of Government initiatives suggests that there is no real confidence that Government policies are working?

The Prime Minister: Every job lost and every redundancy is a matter of regret and sadness for us all. That is why we will do everything in our power to help people who have been made unemployed back into work. We may not be able to help them to keep their existing jobs, but we will help them to get new jobs. That is why the latest measures that we have taken include help for people in work, help for people to move into work, and help for people to get new skills for work. That is what we should do to help people as we take them through this difficult time.

I believe that the indication that President Obama has given in the past few days that he will take the fiscal stimulus action that we have taken, and action in relation to banks in the way that we have done, shows that the world can work together to deal with the problem. The one thing that President Obama did not say in his speech yesterday was, “Fellow Americans, let’s do nothing.”

Mr. Cameron: I can tell the right hon. Gentleman one thing that President Obama will not be doing. He will not be putting up national insurance contributions on people earning £19,000 or £20,000 because the country is so bust.

Let me ask the Prime Minister again about the market reaction to his announcements. On Monday, he announced a package to help banking, but since then the Royal Bank of Scotland has lost two thirds of its value, Lloyds TSB has lost half its value, and the pound lost nearly 4 per cent. in one day. Is not one of the problems with the Prime Minister’s announcements that there is so little clarity? Let me take one element of what he announced on Monday to support the banking system—only the Prime Minister could laugh at those plummeting prices. Can he confirm that he announced an insurance scheme for toxic assets without saying what he is insuring, what the premiums are, what the exposure is, or how long it will last? Is that not a staggering lack of detail?

The Prime Minister: I should explain to the right hon. Gentleman—he has the benefit now of a new shadow shadow Chancellor to help him on his way— [ Laughter. ] I should explain that when markets fail and banks are unable to do the job for which they are intended, the only agency that can step in is the Government. If the Government do not take action, no one else will. That is the lesson that has been learned in every single country of the world, and that is the lesson that President Obama said yesterday is the work that will be pursued in America.

On the action that we have taken on banks themselves, every guarantee that we have made is set against the banks’ assets. In the insurance policies that we have signed there is a fee, and every loan is to be paid for as a result of the credit that we have extended. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the asset purchase scheme,
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and what we actually announced on Monday was a process by which we will talk to the banks in individual detail, and we will look at their assets and liabilities with them. We will therefore conduct the audit of the banks’ finances that he says is necessary. We will report back to the House on the nature of the insurance scheme that we agree, and the risks will be shared with the banks in the scheme. It is similar to schemes that are being adopted in other countries, and that may continue to be adopted in America and elsewhere. I believe that it is the right thing to do, but the right hon. Gentleman must decide which central proposition he agrees with—that the recession must take its course, or that, when markets fail, Governments must step in.

Mr. Cameron: The fact is that this recession is getting worse. The Prime Minister talks about action, but the fact is that when we suggested a national loan guarantee scheme, he attacked it—and he has now introduced it. We suggested changing the terms of the bank recapitalisation; he attacked that idea, but he has now introduced it. We said that he needed to extend the special liquidities scheme; he attacked it, but he has now introduced it. The fact is that he is behind the curve on every single issue.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister has mentioned my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). The difference between this former Chancellor and that former Chancellor is that this one left a golden legacy and that one wrecked it.

The Prime Minister said that the insurance scheme was a temporary measure. His City Minister, Lord Myners, said that it could last for up to nine years. How can the Prime Minister describe something as temporary that might last for nine years?

The Prime Minister: First, the shadow Business Secretary called the Conservative European policy “crackpot”, “dotty” and “absurd”. I know that they are trying to find a way of sitting together but they do not agree with each other’s views on Europe and many other things.

As for the action that we have taken, let me quote a member of the Conservative party who has to make decisions. The Mayor of London said:

That was the Mayor of London. He went on to say:

The Mayor of London is far from saying that we should not invest in public infrastructure, while the Conservative party says that we should not invest in infrastructure. The Mayor of London and the Conservative party hold totally different views.

Mr. Cameron: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman something that the Mayor of London, the former Chancellor and I all agree about: the Prime Minister is making a complete mess of the economy. When it comes to these great infrastructure projects, who just put back the carrier programme? Who cancelled the widening of the motorways? It was this Government, because they have run out of money.

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The Prime Minister gave me absolutely no answer to my question about the insurance scheme. People want detail because they want to know that their money is being put to good use. This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has announced measures to bail out the banks. In the first bank bail out, he put £37 billion of taxpayers’ money into the banks. He said that the shares that the Government bought would

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