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Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I do not want my right hon. Friend to become big-headed, but on behalf of my constituents may I say how proud I
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was that he took the time to go to Sri Lanka? That was a really brave decision, and we will be for ever in his debt for doing it. But we always want more of our friends, so may I ask that he does everything he can at the UN Security Council? I do not wish to frighten him, but a number of Members are going round to all the London embassies of the Security Council’s members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) and I have recently come back from the Austrian embassy. We went to see the Costa Ricans last week. We are overwhelmed by their great confidence in the leadership of the UK Government and their willingness to support them in any way they can. We therefore believe that a large number of countries want to support my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his efforts and are there to back him up. Finally, if he can find the time in his busy day, could he possibly meet a similar delegation of UK young Tamils to talk about his visit to Sri Lanka?

David Miliband: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has shown determination and passion in abundance in standing up for her constituents on this issue. The work done by parliamentarians and civilians around the world is exactly what we want in a democracy, and I applaud the peaceful and diplomatic discussions that she has undertaken. Well, perhaps they are not always diplomatic, but she knows what I mean—the sometimes diplomatic but always passionate discussions that she undertakes. I can certainly confirm that we are in touch with as many countries as we can find, because this important issue requires the coalition that we have been trying to build for some time but that is now beginning to come to fruition.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): May I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for the courageous and determined way that he has pursued peace in Sri Lanka? What reasons did the Sri Lankan Government give for not agreeing to an immediate ceasefire, for blocking relief aid into the area and for not allowing transparent, independent access to the media and human rights organisations? Will our Government now consider ensuring that the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in 2011 is not hosted by Sri Lanka, as it wishes?

David Miliband: As I said in my statement, the Sri Lankan Government did not have the same rendition of the facts as the agencies about the delivery of various forms of aid. They denied allegations that they were blocking aid, and it is important that we follow through on that in detail. On the ceasefire, they argue that they need to prosecute their military campaign against the LTTE to its end. They point—rightly, actually—to the fact that they have made more advances in the past three or four months than anyone expected and that 120,000 citizens have been got out of the conflict zone. While they put forward those arguments we, in return, have emphasised the paramount importance of protecting civilians’ lives, as we will continue to do.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Given the Sri Lankan Government’s stated intent to continue this “war without witness”, to use the Foreign Secretary’s term, will the Government suspend any UK
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arms export licences to Sri Lanka with immediate effect? What steps is he taking to prevent the sale of munitions, including artillery shells, to the Sri Lankan military by EU countries? If we did not take such steps, would we not be complicit in any further civilian deaths?

David Miliband: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we, alongside other European countries, have the toughest arms export criteria in the world. There has never been a shred of evidence to suggest that the Sri Lankan Government have used British artillery. We will continue to impose that tough arms control regime in everything that we do.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May I add my thanks to the Foreign Secretary? My constituents in the Milton Keynes Tamil association will be heartened by the seriousness with which he is taking his concerns, as he demonstrated by going to Sri Lanka with Mr. Kouchner. May I focus on one of his five points—full access to the IDPs? There is huge concern among the Tamil community about the way in which men are being screened out of the IDPs and assumed to be part of the LTTE, just because they are male Tamils. Will he ensure that that point is not lost as part of all the other issues that he is rightly pursing at the UN and in other places?

David Miliband: This is an important point. Some young Tamil men have been taken for “rehabilitation”, although not all of them. It is important that I say that I talked to many young men at the IDP camp that I saw yesterday, as well as women—both younger and older. One reason why we have been emphasising the need for UN access throughout the non-conflict area is precisely to address that concern of my hon. Friend and her constituents, which we will continue to raise.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): On behalf of my constituents, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to end a conflict that has caused such suffering and destruction. Given his statement that this is a war without witness, will he prioritise ensuring that there is proper UN monitoring and freedom of the press so that democratic values and a respect for human rights can be restored to Sri Lanka and, especially, the Tamil people?

David Miliband: Yes; that is certainly an important part of our work.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): On behalf of the Tamil community in my constituency, I thank the Foreign Secretary for his trip and everything that his Ministers are doing to raise my Tamil constituents’ concerns.

May I press the Foreign Secretary on a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) about seeking legal opinion on whether genocide, under the convention definition, is indeed happening? Has legal advice been sought, and if not, will he do so? Does he agree that only a political process, not a victory on the battlefield, will in the end deliver the justice and peace that people in Sri Lanka deserve?

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David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is certainly right to say that only a political process can deliver that. I want to give him an accurate reply about the state of our legal advice, or lack of it, so I will write to him about that.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I say, hopefully by way of encouragement to the Foreign Secretary and all of us, that in response to the strong, united view of the House yesterday and his actions, the last of the hunger strikers in the UK gave up his hunger strike this afternoon? Will the Foreign Secretary continue to concentrate on ensuring not only that we have the ceasefire that is immediately wanted, but that independent people will have the ability to watch what then happens on the ground, because only such presence in the days following any end to conflict will give confidence that there will not be further human rights violations of people in the Tamil community in the north of Sri Lanka?

David Miliband: Too many lives have been lost at other people’s hands for people to take their own lives in the search for change in Sri Lanka. We will certainly continue to make the case for independent access. The central message that we delivered yesterday was that with aid must come access. It is vital for Sri Lanka’s reputation, as well as the well-being of its people, that there is independent access for people of only good intent—in my experience, they are the brave people of the UN, the ICRC and the aid agencies, who want access to do good—so we should do everything possible to encourage it.

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Point of Order

1.5 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has today made a major announcement on internet gambling. You might not be aware of that because the announcement was made not in the Chamber or as a written statement, but on page four of the Financial Times. The Department has now also come out with a press release. Do you agree that such announcements should be made in the Chamber so that we have the opportunity to comment about them?

Mr. Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman allows me to read the article he mentions, perhaps I will be able to write to him about it—that is the best way to proceed.

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Members’ Allowances

Mr. Speaker: In accordance with the business of the House order that was agreed yesterday, the six motions on Members’ allowances, financial interests and Members’ staff will be debated together in a single debate. At the end of the debate, and no later than 5 o’clock, I will put successively the Questions on each motion and any amendments selected that are then moved. My selection of amendments is available in the usual way.

1.6 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move motion 1,

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment (j) to motion 1, in paragraph (1), leave out from ‘allowances’ to end of the motion and add

Amendment (l) to motion 1, at end of paragraph (3)(a) insert

Amendment (d) to motion 1, leave out paragraph (3)(c).

Motion 2— Members’ Allowances (Greater London)—

Motion 3— Registration of Members’ Financial Interests—

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Amendment (g) to motion 3, leave out paragraph (1)(c).

Motion 4— Members’ staff—

Amendment (a) to motion 4, leave out paragraph (1).

Amendment (f) to motion 4, after


Amendment (g) to motion 4, leave out from

to end and insert,

Amendment (b), leave out ‘this decision and’, and insert

Motion 5— Members’ Allowances (Evidence of Expenditure)

Motion 6— Members Estimate Committee (Amendment of the Green Book)

Ms Harman: This is an opportunity for the House to debate matters that all hon. Members care about and know to be important. None of us wants a situation in which someone can be an MP only if they have enough money to afford the costs that inevitably come with a constituency that is far away from London. That is why we all agree that we must have financial recognition of the cost of working in London and in a constituency.

We all want to be sure that we can do our work effectively on behalf of our constituents, which is why we agree that it is necessary to have a team of staff so that we can do our work. We all recognise that Parliament has legitimacy because each of us is democratically elected, but we also know that the institution of Parliament
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needs to command public confidence, and it is evident that the public do not have confidence in our allowance system. That lack of confidence undermines not only the institution of the House of Commons, but every one of us Members.

We made changes in July last year and January this year. I think that those changes did a great deal to put our allowances on a better footing and to make the audit of our claims fully robust. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who worked hard to shape those changes. However, it is clear that the lack of public confidence is such that we need to go further. The Prime Minister has said this, and the leaders of the major Opposition parties have also called for immediate action. Today’s debate and the motions before the House offer us an opportunity to take that action.

The first motion will enable the House to endorse the inquiry that the Committee on Standards in Public Life is conducting at the request of the Prime Minister. It is a major step for the House to endorse a thorough and external review of the structure of our allowance system by an independent body, and we should all be grateful to Sir Chris Kelly and his committee for undertaking it.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend help us on something at the outset of our debate? If the House takes a view today that turns out to be contrary to the view that emerges from the Kelly committee, which will prevail?

Ms Harman: I will be able to help my hon. Friend with the answer to that question when I address how I will ask the House to deal with the amendment tabled by members of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), the right hon. and learned Lady has said to the House that we should endorse the Christopher Kelly inquiry. I entirely agree with that, so why are we to anticipate and pre-empt it? Surely out of courtesy alone we should allow Sir Christopher and his committee to conduct their investigations and make their recommendations, and then vote on them. We are pre-empting the committee today.

Ms Harman: We are not pre-empting the Kelly inquiry. There are a number of actions that we can take now. If hon. Members will let me get on with my speech, they will hear how I suggest that the House should vote on the motion and the amendments. Hopefully they will then be reassured that there is no question of us wanting to pre-empt the Kelly inquiry, for which the Prime Minister called, and which we hope that the whole House will support. I do think that there are actions that we could take now without having to wait for the Kelly inquiry. That is not about pre-empting it; it is about taking certain actions now.

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