Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Lady makes an important point. We respect Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to assume the position of Prime Minister and take the Movement for Democratic Change into a power-sharing agreement. Equally, however, we will judge that agreement and the Government on their behaviour and conduct in the period ahead. Our job, currently and in the future, is to ensure that we get humanitarian aid to the people of Zimbabwe. We are providing £47 million for life-saving assistance, with £2 million more to come in the next few
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1357
weeks. We have been leading the charge to ensure that we bring the cholera outbreak under control. We are having some success, but by no means has the cholera outbreak been resolved.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Does the Minister acknowledge that given the new situation in Zimbabwe, his Department will need to evaluate closely the opportunities that may arise to engage more fully in future? What steps will his Department take to co-ordinate with the neighbouring countries and to build a consolidated ability for local and international donors to ensure the rebuilding of the economy and the alleviation of poverty in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Lewis: May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are very clear about our view of the tests that should be applied to the conduct of the new power-sharing Government? Those tests must include the immediate release of political prisoners; an end to political violence and intimidation; the repeal of repressive legislation; crucially, the appointment of a credible financial team and the production of a credible economic plan; and a clear road map to the national elections, with guarantees that they will be conducted freely and fairly, in full view of the international community. Those are the tests that we will apply, and urge others to apply, to the new power-sharing arrangements.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Morgan Tsvangirai has taken a great gamble in joining in power sharing with Robert Mugabe. Do the Minister and the Government not consider that all neighbouring countries, Southern African Development Community countries including South Africa and international organisations should seek to give Mr. Tsvangirai and his party, the MDC, every support and encouragement to enable him to reduce the suffering of the Zimbabwean people?

Mr. Lewis: Let us be clear: we want the new Prime Minister to succeed. We believe that we should support his courageous and brave action over a period of time to try to free Zimbabwe from tyranny. We believe that we should give him every possible support in his new role, but it is crucial that we judge the behaviour of the new Government by their actions and policies before we decide on the scale of the responses of the UK and other donors.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): On the very day when Morgan Tsvangirai is being sworn in as Prime Minister of the new power-sharing Government, he faces a situation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) said, in which half the remaining population of Zimbabwe are facing malnutrition, there are at least 60,000 cases of cholera and there is a desperate need for medicines. What additional steps are the British Government taking with the Southern African Development Community to have discussions with the new power-sharing Government, and how long does the Minister believe it will take to evaluate whether there is any real improvement in the situation so that the devastation and humanitarian suffering in that great country can start to be reversed?

Mr. Lewis: It is important to be clear about the help that we already provide and that is getting through: £9 million in food aid; £10 million to fight cholera;
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1358
£10 million for livelihood support; £10 million for HIV prevention, as well as the support through the International Organisation for Migration for orphans and vulnerable children. In the weeks ahead, we envisage that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international institutions will begin to engage in serious discussion with the new Government about the practical help that can be made available. We believe that that help should be made available only if that Government make credible economic reform proposals, which can be delivered in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

Sri Lanka

4. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Sri Lankan Government on aid to that country; and if he will make a statement. [255788]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): The UK does not have a bilateral aid programme with Sri Lanka. However, due to the unfolding humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict in the north, we have committed £5 million to support agencies such as the Red Cross to deliver vital humanitarian aid. The Government regularly press the case for an end to the conflict and for allowing a full humanitarian needs assessment.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I emphasise that it has been three weeks since humanitarian aid got through to Vanni. What are we doing about a ceasefire?

Mr. Foster: The severe restrictions on humanitarian agencies operating in the Vanni area means that it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening on the ground and how many people are affected by the conflict. That is why we have this week dispatched three departmental humanitarian experts to Sri Lanka to see for themselves the situation on the ground and to report back directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister has already said that the Government are applying pressure to try to relieve the position in the north of Sri Lanka. What pressure can they apply to stop the persecution of independent newspaper journalists in Colombo and journalists in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation? Sri Lanka is meant to be a democratic country. What can we do to ensure that it remains so?

Mr. Foster: We impress on the Government of Sri Lanka the need to uphold humanitarian law in the country. We also agree with the EU Commission’s duty to initiate an investigation into the generalised system of preferences plus—GSP plus— trade preference scheme, which depends on Sri Lanka’s maintaining a good humanitarian record.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend seen the reports that health Ministers in Colombo have issued a final warning to the eight doctors and 1,000 medical staff in Mullaiththeevu and Ki’linochchi
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1359
districts to leave the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-controlled territories, and that defence Ministry officials were threatening them with

Will my hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government respect health facilities in the Tamil areas and fulfil their human rights obligations to the Tamil people?

Mr. Foster: We utterly condemn threats, violence and intimidation against humanitarian workers and aid agencies, and against civilian doctors and nurses who treat people. That forms part of the content of a letter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the Sri Lankan President only yesterday, reinforcing the need to look after all civilians in Sri Lanka.

Extractive Industries

5. Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): What the Government’s objectives are for the forthcoming extractive industries transparency initiative global conference. [255789]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The UK has played a leading role in the development of the extractive industries transparency initiative and will work with key stakeholders at the global conference to advance it.

Willie Rennie: The initiative is a significant step forward in dealing with exploitation of oil and gas resources throughout the world. However, there is some resentment in developing countries and a feeling that the west is lecturing them about what should be done in their countries. Will the Government not only encourage such Governments to comply with the initiative, but sign up themselves and encourage Russia, India and the United States to do likewise?

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The organisation has been operating for seven years, and 24 implementing countries, 40 extractive companies and 80 institutional investors have signed up. We want as many countries as possible to sign up to the principles and the objectives that underpin the EITI’s work.

Global Economic Downturn

6. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to reduce the effects of the global economic downturn on poor people in developing countries. [255790]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We are reprioritising some of our aid to help mitigate the impact of the downturn on the world’s poorest. We are working with the international financial institutions, other world bodies and traditional donors, in particular in the run-up to the G20 London summit, on measures to help developing countries to maximise levels of economic growth.

Hugh Bayley: What policies to protect poor people in developing countries will the UK Government propose to other donor countries at the G20 summit and the spring meeting of the World Bank?

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1360

Mr. Thomas: We are working to ensure that the international financial institutions, in particular the World Bank, but also the regional development banks and the European Commission, continue to fund, for example, infrastructure programmes that sustain jobs, and to release more support for safety nets. We have also brought forward some additional resources to help, for example, to provide more safety nets in Ethiopia, to cover the higher costs of social protection there due to rising food prices and rising food shortages.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [255800] Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 11 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): 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. Mahmood: My constituents are fed up with irresponsibility from the bankers and the mistakes that are costing the country millions. Does my right hon. Friend accept that those allegations, including the most recent against Sir James Crosby, must be fully investigated to restore confidence in our banking sector?

The Prime Minister: It is right that we investigate serious allegations that are made about the banking system. These are serious but contested allegations; in relation to Sir James Crosby, these are allegations that he will wish to defend himself against, so it is right that he has stepped down as vice-chairman of the Financial Services Authority. It is important that the Financial Services Authority shows at this time that it is operating to the best standards possible. The Walker review that is being set up will look at exactly these matters—risk management, remuneration and the performance of boards—and I believe that the system of regulation in this country can and will be improved.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): They can even plant questions at short notice. Let us be clear about what has happened. In the last half hour, Sir James Crosby, the man who ran HBOS and whom the Prime Minister singled out to regulate our banks and to advise our Government, has resigned over allegations that he sacked the whistleblower who knew that his bank was taking unacceptable risks. Does the Prime Minister accept that it was a serious error of judgment on his part to appoint him in the first place?

The Prime Minister: The allegations that were brought before the Select Committee on the Treasury were investigated by the independent KPMG in 2005. The allegations made by Mr. Moore were found not to be substantiated. That was an independent review, which was done by KPMG and reported to the Financial Services Authority. However, it is right that when serious allegations are made, they are properly investigated. No doubt the Treasury Committee will want to look at them; and no doubt the Conservative party will want to
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1361
wait to see how that investigation takes place. The Walker committee will look at every aspect of banking regulation, which we know can be improved. The unfortunate thing is that every time we have called for more regulation, the Conservative party has called for less.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about the KPMG investigation, but it was after that investigation that the bank virtually went bust. Taxpayers have poured billions of pounds into the bank. Not only was Sir James Crosby appointed as one of the top regulators in the country—and, I have to say, knighted by the Prime Minister for his services—but the Prime Minister has been relying on him for economic advice. Sir James Crosby was the man who was going to sort out the mortgage market, so will the Prime Minister confirm that, as well as standing down from the Financial Services Authority, Sir James Crosby is no longer one of his advisers? Is that the case?

The Prime Minister: Sir James Crosby did two reports: one for the Chancellor on mortgages, and one for me, when I was Chancellor, on security issues. He has completed these reports. He is no longer an economic adviser to the Government—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] And he has only been so in the context of doing two reports. If I may say so, we are facing very big issues in the economy at the moment, and the way in which the Conservative party wants to trivialise them does it no merit.

Mr. Cameron: There is nothing trivial about asking the Prime Minister about the man he appointed to regulate the banks. Why cannot the Prime Minister just admit, for once, that he made an error of judgment? Is this not a big part of the Prime Minister’s problem? Sir James Crosby has had the decency to resign. Why cannot the Prime Minister have the decency to admit that he got something wrong? Is this not part of the problem? There has been no apology about boom and bust, and no apology about Britain being better prepared. Even the bankers have apologised—when is the Prime Minister going to? Won’t you just admit, one more time, that it was a misjudgment to appoint him to all those roles?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must tell the Leader of the Opposition that the term “you” is not permissible. He should not use it— [ Interruption. ] Order. Be quiet! I have said this time and time again, and I will not say it again.

The Prime Minister: Yesterday, he heard the four leaders of the two major banks that were brought to the point of collapse apologising for what they have done. If we had not stepped in to save the banks, I would have had to apologise for not taking the action that was necessary, but we took the right action. I just want to ask him about the judgments that he took on all the big decisions over the last year. We nationalised Northern Rock a year ago, but the Conservatives opposed the measure. On the fiscal stimulus, when every other country in the world is acting, he opposed the measures that we took. On the whole range of measures that we are taking to deal with the fiscal stimulus that is necessary, including raising the pension and raising child benefit, they are opposing what we do. I think that he has to answer to the House himself for what he has got wrong.

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1362

Mr. Cameron: I will tell him about the judgments that we have made. Voting against VAT—that was the right judgment. Supporting a national loan guarantee scheme—that was the right judgment. The Prime Minister says that the banks’ collapsing was nothing to do with him, but let us have a look at the judgments that he made when he was Chancellor. Who gave us the biggest budget deficit in the developed world? He did. Who left us the most personally indebted country in the world? He did. Who set up the regulatory system that has so failed? He did.

Let us have a look at another of the Prime Minister’s judgments. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have told us repeatedly that the economy will start to grow again at the beginning of July this year. The Schools Secretary, the man who was the Prime Minister’s chief economic adviser at the Treasury for so many years, says that we are heading for the worst recession in 100 years. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Schools Secretary?

The Prime Minister: Let us look at the judgments that he mentioned. On VAT, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have just said that it was the right decision to make. There is more money in people’s pockets as a result of it. It is only the Conservative party, which has always put up VAT, that believes that the answer can never be to reduce VAT. Let us look at what we have done for business. We have introduced a loan guarantee scheme that is £1 billion. We have introduced a Bank of England facility that will start on Friday that is £50 billion, and 56,000 companies have already benefited from the schemes that we have brought in. If we had taken the advice of the Conservative party, no money would have been used. As Barack Obama said only yesterday, doing nothing is not an option.

Mr. Cameron: Let us have a little look at who backs the Prime Minister’s judgment on VAT. The Dutch say that it was

The Germans— [ Interruption. ] These are his friends, by the way; I am not even talking about his enemies. The Germans say that the debt will take a generation to pay off, and the French President says that the Prime Minister is “ruining” the economy— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should not shout down the Leader of the Opposition. It is not allowed— [ Interruption. ] Ms Keeley, you are usually very quiet; I do not think that you should push your luck.

Mr. Cameron: They should listen to the French President. This is what he said. He said that the Prime Minister was “ruining the economy” and that he, the President, would not be “repeating Gordon Brown’s mistakes”. What mistakes was he referring to?

Next Section Index Home Page