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The Secretary of State was wrong about one thing in what he said. Our responsibilities on torture with respect to our prisoners are absolute under international law
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and British law. That responsibility means that he has to meet my hon. Friend’s request for an inquiry that covers all these issues.

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He speaks with a lot of personal experience, and I want to acknowledge that, too. He raised the point about further inquiries, as did the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), and referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I want to make it clear that we briefed the ISC pretty fully on a range of issues to do with rendition and the involvement of the two individuals in that wide sweep of operations. That evidence was brought to the ISC’s attention as it prepared its report on rendition, which was pretty thorough and comprehensive, and the right hon. Gentleman would have read it very carefully. The ISC has looked very carefully at these issues of rendition, and we have not withheld information. The review that we have instigated in the light of Mr. Ben Griffin’s allegations has been thorough and comprehensive. So we are doing all that we possibly can to expose problems when they have arisen, to provide a very strong justification for UK forces—whether special forces or otherwise—to have the ability, the power and the means to detain people who mean us serious harm and have the intention to do so. In that, I have been completely honest and frank with the House today.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his candour and diligence in this matter. I should like to focus on the narrow issue of parliamentary accountability, with particular reference to the fifth and eighth paragraphs on page 2 of the statement, which relate to the way that the matter of the two individuals was reported to the House. Was the omission—the wilful ignorance—that of the officials in his Department or that of members of the security and intelligence services? People have laughed at me before when I have said that the security and intelligence services are unaccountable and out of control, but this case underlines yet again the fact that either they or people in his Department do not understand the importance of candour to Parliament.

I fully accept that the Home and Foreign Secretaries reasonably did not take full cognisance of what was flagged up to them in documents. The duty was with the officials either in his Department or in the security and intelligence services. I want to know whether people have been disciplined and whether the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is seriously deficient and not a parliamentary committee, will at least look at the error. Parliament was misled; Ministers were misled. It is a very serious matter.

Mr. Hutton: It is a serious matter, and that is why I am here today to try to respond to it. I have tried to explain to the House today how the errors and mistakes arose. I have nothing further that I can say to my hon. Friend to add what I said in my statement. I am, however, absolutely clear about one thing: Ministers in my Department acted in good faith at all times, and so, I believe, is the case for my officials, who acted on the basis of the information that they had at their disposal. In relation to Ministry of Defence officials, there is no question whatever of any disciplinary action being taken.

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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): The Secretary of State gave a very careful answer a moment or two ago, when he said that the Government had no information about the treatment of the two men, but I hope that he will address a further question. What inquiries did the Government make when they were being given assurances? In particular, what inquiries did they make about the forms of interrogation to which those men may have been subject? In further particular, did the Government ask whether either of those men had been subject to water-boarding?

Mr. Hutton: Inquiries have been made, and I am quite satisfied on the basis of the information that has reached me that there is no substantiated evidence of the mistreatment or abuse of those two individuals.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): We should not forget that some of the individuals who have been captured pose a very significant and dangerous risk to our armed forces and British interests. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, when special forces go in to capture a target, they do so only after intelligence is analysed and upholds a standard to suggest that those individuals pose a serious threat to our country’s and our forces’ interests? Does he not recognise that, if such a muck-up is to be avoided, the best way forward is to have an Intelligence and Security Committee that has a proper ability to investigate our agencies and to drill into such requests, so that our agencies do not go freelance and that our forces are better protected in future?

Mr. Hutton: It is very important when we are conducting these security operations that there is a clear policy framework and that everyone understands the nature of the jurisdiction in which they operate and is aware of the legal parameters in which their behaviour could be ultimately judged. We make very great efforts to ensure that that is the case. I agree strongly with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of these security operations. None of us in the House should be under any illusion: we are dealing with some extremely dangerous people who mean us, our values and our way of life serious harm, and we are entitled to protect ourselves against them.

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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the frank statement that he has made. To put some balance into the picture, every day, British personnel risk their lives to rescue Taliban who are injured on the battlefield. RAF personnel fly in and bring them back to be patched up in hospital, and their lives are saved, although they may be interrogated afterwards. Our forces are doing a fantastic job, not only protecting our troops but recovering injured Taliban as well.

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to strike that balance, but he has done it better than I did. Our forces operate in a humane environment. They are deeply humane men and women, and it is right that he should pay tribute to them.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): My constituent Jamil el-Banna was rendered from the Gambia to Bagram, where he alleges that he was tortured, so the Secretary of State will forgive me if I am left rather uneasy by his assurances to the House today that the two individuals were treated humanely. Further to the questions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), may I ask whether the reassurances that the Secretary of State has been given by the US were given under the current or previous US Administration? Furthermore, he did not specifically answer the question about whether he made inquiries about water-boarding or torture.

Mr. Hutton: Our discussions with US officials date from early December and have only recently concluded.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Will the Secretary of State say what inquiries had been made on behalf of the Ministry of Defence? Neither my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) nor my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) got a straight answer when they asked that question. The Secretary of State did say that there was no substantiated evidence of mistreatment, but was there any evidence? Can we strip away any mealy-mouthed adjectives? Was there any evidence whatever of mistreatment?

Mr. Hutton: No.

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Welsh Affairs

[Relevant Documents: The First Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, on Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education, HC 57, and the Second Report from the Committee, Globalisation and its impact on Wales, HC 184 .]

1.51 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I beg to move,

Before starting today’s debate, I would like to extend, through the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), the thoughts, prayers and sympathies of everyone in Wales, of all political persuasions—I am thinking particularly of Welsh Members of Parliament—to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and his family at this difficult time for them.

You are a serious Welsh lady, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like you, I am glad to be present at this annual Welsh day debate. It is sometimes called the “St. David’s day debate”, but as hon. Members know the feast day of that saint is Sunday. Today is, in fact, the feast day of St. Isabel of France—rather appropriately, bearing in mind what might happen on the rugby field in Paris tomorrow. I am sure that we all send our best wishes to the Welsh rugby team for tomorrow.

Each year we take this unique opportunity to debate all that is Welsh. However, this year there is little doubt that our minds have to be focused on the significant economic challenges that all of us collectively face. Wales, along with every country in the world, cannot insulate itself from the worldwide economic problems. No one could have predicted the sheer scale and speed of recent events. This is no ordinary crisis, and it is clearly not the result of the usual cycle of domestic inflationary pressures. It is the first financial crisis of the global age.

What has changed since the United Kingdom recessions of the ’80s and ’90s is that it used to be thought that spreading financial risk globally would insure against it. Instead, however, the risk has impacted globally. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement earlier today has great relevance to that point.

Since the ’80s and ’90s, there is no doubt that the Welsh economy has been dramatically transformed. As I look back at last year’s debate—as we get older, I suppose that we tend to look back—I remember that I spoke about Wales’s record employment, the importance of the knowledge economy and the fact that the Wales of the future will be a small but clever country. The present economic crisis is hitting us hard, but we are starting from stronger foundations than ever before. The financial crisis has caused a world recession, with consequences that are hurting individuals, families and firms right across Wales. Government action on regional, national and international—and, indeed, local—levels is required to intervene and support our economy by helping people and businesses.

Our decisive action in October, to invest £37 billion to strengthen our banks and stop them collapsing, was vital for our economy—not for the sake of the banks, but, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said earlier, for the people and businesses in Wales and around
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Britain that rely on them. In January, we announced further measures designed to reinforce stability, to increase confidence and capacity in order to get credit flowing again. The pre-Budget report in November additionally provided a £20 billion injection for the economy, including targeted support for small businesses, a temporary reduction in VAT and support for homeowners facing difficulties. We calculate that approximately £1 billion has come to Wales because of that fiscal stimulus.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The Secretary of State knows that I am sympathetic to and fairly supportive of the measures that the Government are taking to try to lessen the impact of the economic downturn. Nevertheless, is he aware that many small businesses—certainly in Montgomeryshire—are experiencing serious problems because, notwithstanding the Government’s investment, the banks are still reducing their overdraft facilities? That means that otherwise viable businesses have to lay off workers and may have to close as a result of the banks’ reticence about maintaining lending at pre-recession levels.

Mr. Murphy: I am aware of that. A week or two ago, the hon. Gentleman and I met to discuss those issues with business people from Montgomeryshire. Unquestionably, banks are not doing what they should do—that is, lend to businesses. I am thinking particularly, of course, of viable businesses. We can understand a bank being reluctant to help out a business that is far too risky and has no future, but stories reaching me from all parts of Wales show that some banks are not lending as they ought to. There is a significant issue of delivery following announcements from the Government here and in Cardiff. I shall return to it in a few moments.

Figures show that the VAT reduction has already helped to bring inflation and prices down, putting more money into the pockets of Welsh families—about £275 a year for the average family—and assisting businesses. Our legislative programme for the fourth Session demonstrates our determination to equip people and businesses to deal with the economic challenges too. Taken together, the initiatives and the legislative programme represent decisive action. As the Prime Minister has said, we simply cannot walk by on the other side when decent, hard-working people are facing tough times. That is why it is important that today real help should go to our businesses, our trainers and those who face the possible repossession of their homes.

It is so important to stress that we in Wales have a unique opportunity. The Welsh Assembly Government are taking action—more than £1 billion is coming from Cardiff and going into businesses and helping families. That action and the measures that this Government have brought forward show that the way to tackle the problems is through the devolved Administration and the Government working together.

That has been seen in the all-Wales economic summits, which I attend with Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones and which are leading the way in dealing with the global problems affecting Wales’s economy. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I have visited businesses right across Wales to listen to accounts of the impact that the recession is having. In addition, I sit on the National Economic Council, which means that I can put the Welsh view there and go back to Wales to discuss the important issues with colleagues.

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The measures in the pre-Budget report, such as business rate exemptions on vacant business properties and additional time for firms facing cash-flow problems to pay their tax bills, came from the meeting of the first all-Wales economic summit in Cardiff some months ago. The request was made at the summit and the Governments in London and Cardiff acted. Some 2,600 businesses in Wales have been given extra time to pay tax; that amounts to about £38 million of deferred payments in Wales alone. In addition, we have taken a series of actions to unblock bank lending to small and medium-sized enterprises—the point that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) made—although I believe that more is still to be done on that. Nevertheless, figures show the effect that the global economic slowdown is having on our labour market. Every time a worker loses their job, it is a personal tragedy, and we are doing all that we can to support people through these tough times.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend speak with those who are responsible for setting the precept for the South Wales police force? The chief constable gave MPs and AMs a briefing on this matter, which I attended. She has asked—reasonably in my view—for a 10-year 10 per cent. increase. That would amount in total to about £13 a year on bills. The difference between what has been allocated and what she is asking for is about 2p a day. I think that my constituents are willing to pay that to keep more police officers on the beat and to see more neighbourhood policing. Why should the precept for South Wales police continue to lag behind by about £50 compared with North Wales and £30 compared with Gwent and Dyfed-Powys? I would be grateful if he used his good offices to influence a resolution of the problem.

Mr. Murphy: Like my right hon. Friend, I have spoken to the chief constable on this subject. She came to London a few weeks ago to discuss that and other matters, and he and I were present at that meeting, here in the House of Commons. Next week, when I meet the Home Secretary, I will raise these issues again. There is a strong case for South Wales police, because it is not only the biggest police force in Wales, but covers our capital city, where major events take place.

The Government have invested £1.3 billion in Jobcentre Plus. Those investments are working alongside the policies that the Assembly is advancing—ReAct and ProAct. The ProAct scheme, in particular, has been of great interest, not just in Wales but beyond. That programme has started very speedily and is backed by European funds. Take-up is now starting—in the past few days, at least two companies have been given a ProAct grant, and 15 others are in the process of having their applications considered. It is a uniquely Welsh programme that is very useful in ensuring that people are retained in their industries during the slowdown so that, when the changes eventually come, their industry is not badly affected and will continue, perhaps even stronger than before.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I am interested to know how ProAct is working. The “Real help now” document produced by the Welsh Assembly says that the scheme was funded by the
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Assembly. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the money is coming from the Assembly, not through European funding? More importantly, I gather that it is a pilot scheme from January to March and that it was supposed to focus initially on the automotive industry. I would be interested to hear about the quantitative outcome—what it has done for that industry and how many jobs has it saved. If there are good lessons to be learned from Wales, they must be passed on to the rest of the country.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Lady is right to ask those questions. I hope that I will be able to give her a bit more detail in the course of the next week or so. As I said, two companies, one in Welshpool and one in Llantrisant, are receiving help, and 15 are under consideration. She is right to focus on the automotive industry, which is quite big in my own constituency, where workers have been put on to a three-day week because orders are not coming in—people are not buying cars, and if they are not buying cars they are not buying brakes. Ultimately, therefore, we need to ensure that manufacturing continues for when the good time comes.

On the financing of the scheme—

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Murphy: Just one second—I am still answering the hon. Lady.

The bulk of the financing comes from the European social fund as a direct consequence of what was initially objective 1 funding, but other money—for example, the money put into apprenticeships—comes from Welsh Assembly funds. The scheme could be replicated elsewhere. I know that the Prime Minister is very interested in it and has given the details to the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Mr. Williams: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way and apologise for intervening at an inopportune moment.

I understand, in a way, why we have to keep production going in the automotive industry, but surely the key is to get customers to buy the cars? At the moment, we are keeping production going and just building up stocks of unsold cars that are overhanging the market, but what we need are customers with confidence. Getting the banks to lend to individuals as well as businesses is key to that, is it not?

Mr. Murphy: It certainly is. I am buying a car myself this Sunday.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Someone is doing all right, then.

Mr. Murphy: I have had to go to the banks as well.

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