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3 Jun 2009 : Column 263

That is the action that we must take together, and I have no doubt that if we take it and maintain the political momentum in Northern Ireland, right will win and evil will lose.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I associate myself with what my right hon. Friend said about the death of Kevin McDaid, but is my right hon. Friend aware that press reports are suggesting that members of the police force texted loyalist groups to tell them that tricolours were being raised in the community, and is the matter being investigated?

Mr. Woodward: I am aware of those press reports. Indeed, on Saturday evening this week I spoke to the Chief Constable, who had been made aware of the stories. He has investigated the matter, and I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the Chief Constable can find no evidence whatsoever to support the allegations that were made in the newspaper.

Let me say again that the best way in which we can deal with sectarian violence is by confronting these issues, which are the legacy of the past. We must uphold law and order, we must be firm in our justice, and we must ensure that we do everything we can to send a clear signal to young and old people that guns have no place in Northern Ireland today.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Let me associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s comments about the murder of Kevin McDaid. It was a truly brutal and, indeed, evil act. Does the Secretary of State not accept, however, that its true significance lies in its demonstration that in the minds of those would style themselves loyalist paramilitaries, there has been no movement away from— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is unfair. Hon. Members are speaking about Northern Ireland, which is a very serious matter, and there is a great noise of conversation in the Chamber.

Mr. Carmichael: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Does the Secretary of State agree that when de Chastelain reports in August, we do not want to hear about talks and progress? What we want is confirmation that the weapons have been decommissioned and that there will be no more chances after August.

Mr. Woodward: I have made it very clear to the House that there will be no chances after August unless we are told by the IICD that there has been meaningful progress, so there is no question of the period being extended in the absence of that progress, but again I say that decommissioning in relation to sectarianism in Northern Ireland is only a part of the issue. In the words of the chief executive of the Community Relations Council, we must all talk now about the need for a shared, united society, stop the talk of us and them and unite to turn the hatred of the past into a society of cohesion and normality with no guns at all.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I entirely endorse what the Secretary of State said and condemn the cowardly and murderous attacks on Kevin McDaid
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and Damian Fleming recently. We hear what the Secretary of State has said about the decommissioning of the arms held by the so-called loyalist groups, but I remind him that, on Thursday 5 February, on behalf of Her Majesty’s official Opposition, I reluctantly agreed to support the Government in extending the arms decommissioning amnesty for the 12th year on the specific promise that there were moves to start decommissioning within weeks. That has not happened. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that if arms decommissioning has not taken place by the August deadline, he will make a statement in the House immediately?

Mr. Woodward: I again say to the hon. Gentleman that we should remember that the work of the IICD has achieved a transformation of weapons held by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, not least those weapons held by PIRA. In a succession of instances with regard to decommissioning, that has led to the current state of play. I am grateful for his support this year on that matter, but it will not help the work of the IICD if I make a running commentary on information, including Security Service information. I simply say to him that I believe that it was the right thing to do and I believe that in August he will see the fruits of that labour.

Community Projects (Funding)

3. Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): What recent discussions he has had with representatives of churches and other faith-based organisations which do not apply for funding from the national lottery for religious reasons on alternative sources of funding for their community projects. [277585]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have had no such discussions as national lottery matters and the listed places of worship scheme are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I understand that, in addition, the Northern Ireland Departments operate several funding programmes which are open to Northern Ireland churches and other faith-based organisations.

Dr. McDonnell: Is the Minister aware that churches and faith-based groups have made a valuable contribution to local communities and to wider society in Northern Ireland—a cost-effective contribution, mostly volunteer led? A recent study has shown that 70 or 75 per cent. of volunteer activity around youth groups is led by faith-based groups. Many of those groups have ethical difficulties availing themselves of lottery money. Has he done anything, or can he offer any suggestions? Will he meet those people in an effort to find alternative sources of funding?

Paul Goggins: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the churches in Northern Ireland and faith-based organisations that provide so much by way of community activity, particularly aimed at young people and excluded people. There is a range of funding opportunities for church groups that have a problem with the national lottery. They can apply to different Departments in Northern Ireland. I hope that, with the transfer of money from dormant bank and building
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society accounts, there will be future opportunities and that faith-based groups will have less of a problem in applying under those schemes.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I knew this question was important, but I did not know that it deserved the acclaim it got from the House earlier.

Does the Minister recognise that in many communities churches provide the main source of community activity for the elderly, the young and others, and that because of some deeply held beliefs the infrastructure that would normally be funded through the lottery fund cannot be funded? Will he look at ways of ensuring that those areas that require and rely on church facilities are not disadvantaged?

Paul Goggins: I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. It is true not only in Northern Ireland, but in all our constituencies, that churches and faith-based organisations make a real difference. I acknowledge the problems some churches have in making applications to the national lottery. I say again that the new dormant bank and building society accounts proposal might be a way of getting money to those organisations. They play an important part, but I am sure, too, that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the £773 million invested in communities in Northern Ireland through the national lottery has also made a huge difference to local communities.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [277568] Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 3 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to the families and friends of the seven servicemen who have lost their lives since we last met: Corporal Stephen Bolger of 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment; Lance Corporal Robert Richards of the Armoured Support Group, the Royal Marines; Lance Corporal Kieron Hill of 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment; Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett of the Light Dragoons; Fusilier Petero Suesue of 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Sapper Jordan Rossi of 38 Engineer Regiment, the Royal Engineers; and the soldier from the 2nd Battalion, the Rifles, who was killed yesterday. These are exceptionally brave men, whose service should not, and will not, ever be forgotten. Recent operations have shown that we will not allow the Taliban to jeopardise the future of a free and democratic Afghanistan, and the whole country should be rightly proud of the sacrifice these men have made.

I have also to report that we have strong reason to believe that a British citizen, Edwin Dyer, has been murdered by an al-Qaeda cell in Mali. I, as will the whole House, utterly condemn this appalling and barbaric act of terrorism. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family. I have talked to the President of Mali. He knows he will have every support in rooting out al-Qaeda from his country. I want those who use terror
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against this country and against British citizens to know beyond doubt that they will be hunted down and brought to justice. There will be no hiding place for them, and there will be no safe haven for terrorists who attack our country.

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

Mr. Weir: I represent 45 Commando, which has recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan where, unfortunately, it lost nine men. My colleagues and I would like to associate ourselves with the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister for these brave men who lost their lives in Afghanistan recently, and also for the family of Mr. Dyer.

Just now, we are seeing the pathetic sight of the Cabinet attempting to reshuffle itself. When will the Prime Minister accept that he has lost all authority and call an election?

The Prime Minister: There is work to be done every day to deal with the recession. If we had taken the advice of the other parties, we would not have taken action to nationalise the banks, and we would not have taken action to deal with the problems that small businesses face and that people face with unemployment. These are the actions that are needed, and this Government are taking such action every day.

Q2. [277569] Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): At last year’s Union for the Mediterranean summit, my right hon. Friend gave his backing to concentrated solar power as a means of providing almost limitless clean energy for Europe. Given that more than 170 Members of this House have signed an early-day motion supporting concentrated solar power and the development of a high-voltage, direct-current supergrid, what active steps is my right hon. Friend taking to work with our international partners to make this a reality?

The Prime Minister: This is a serious issue that needs European co-operation for it to happen. Our target is for 15 per cent. of energy consumption to come from renewable sources. We have spent more than £11 million over the last few years to support solar installations, and we will publish the renewable energy strategy, setting out our strategy to meet these renewable targets. We will work with all countries in Europe to develop a renewables strategy.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier from 2nd Battalion The Rifles who was killed in Helmand province yesterday. We will also remember Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett, Corporal Stephen Bolger, Lance Corporal Kieron Hill, Lance Corporal Robert Richards, Sapper Jordan Rossi and Fusilier Suesue. All of them have been killed in the past fortnight serving their country—we will not forget their sacrifice and we must care for their families.

I also join the Prime Minister in sending condolences to the family and friends of Edwin Dyer, who, it is believed, has been brutally murdered by terrorists in Mali. This must be a simply horrific time for his family, and I am sure that everyone in the country is thinking
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about them. In spite of all the difficulties though, the Prime Minister is right to say that we must never give in to terrorists.

This morning, the Communities Secretary resigned from the Cabinet. That follows yesterday’s announcement that the Children’s Minister is standing down, the Minister from the Cabinet Office is leaving and the Home Secretary is resigning. Why does not the Prime Minister accept that his ability to command his Cabinet has simply disappeared?

The Prime Minister: I think the first thing that the whole House would want to do is acknowledge the great work that has been done by both the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary in the Cabinet. At a time like this, the House should come together to acknowledge contributions that have been made in the public interest. May I also say that under the Home Secretary what we have seen is crime come down, neighbourhood policing introduced, the fight on terrorism stepped up and better relationships between the police and the community? I have to remind the Conservative party that crime doubled under a Conservative Government and policing numbers were cut.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is in denial. If these people have done such good work, why are they walking away from their jobs? The Communities Secretary’s statement does not pay tribute to him or a single one of his policies. Let us be clear about what is happening: the Minister in charge of local government is resigning the day before the local elections. Is not the fact that she has chosen today of all days to go a direct challenge to his authority?

The Prime Minister: I think some people should take a step back and understand what has been happening. The past few weeks have been difficult for every Member in every part of this House. People have to recognise, in the politicking that goes on, that there have been enormous pressures on people and that while the public are angry, there have also been family pressures on Members of this House. That is true of those in all parts of the House, and I think that we have a responsibility to all Members of the House in this. Yes, there are elements of party politics that the right hon. Gentleman would want to raise, but he has to acknowledge that in all parts of the House there are issues that people want to sort out.

Mr. Cameron: I have to say to the Prime Minister that if this was about expenses, the Communities Secretary would have resigned weeks ago. The fact is that she has chosen to resign today. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Do not shout down the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Cameron: Yes —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Remember that there is a danger of the House being suspended if people continue to shout. That is the danger, and there will be no Prime Minister’s Question Time. [Interruption.] That goes for both sides of the House.

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Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about pressures. I have to say that those pressures on the Communities Secretary and on others in his Cabinet include No. 10 directly briefing against them. The fact is that what we see is a dysfunctional Cabinet and a dysfunctional Government led by a Prime Minister who cannot give a lead. Can he perhaps at least guarantee that there will be no further resignations ahead of his reshuffle?

The Prime Minister: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that for those on both sides of the House the events of the past few weeks have been difficult. It would be unfair for us to pass this Question Time without acknowledging that in each part of the House people have found it difficult with the pressures upon them. I want also to pay tribute to the Communities Secretary for the work that she has done, because she has brought new relationships between local government and central Government with the local government concordat, she has sponsored urban regeneration in shopping centres in our country and she has been active in building better relationships with the Muslim communities. At a time like this, it is the duty of all of us, in all parts of the House, to recognise the contributions that people have made.

As for what he says about the Government, we have two jobs of work to do. One is to clean up the expenses system. I think that everybody else in the House except him agrees that we have to take action now to clean up that system. The second thing is that we have got to take this country through the recession. The remarkable thing about the Leader of the Opposition is that this is yet another week when there has been not one question on policy.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister must understand that the issue here is his leadership. The failure of the Government on appearance is not as bad as their failure on substance. Let me turn to the issue of the economy and let us take just one key individual, the person responsible for steering us through this recession: the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Prime Minister refuses to talk about him in anything other than the past tense. We know that the Home Secretary is going, we know that the Communities Secretary is going, so can the Prime Minister tell us whether the Chancellor, sitting there in front of us, will still be in his post in a week’s time?

The Prime Minister: Once again, that is nothing to do with policy. The right hon. Gentleman is incapable of dealing with the big issues that face this country. Let me say what this Chancellor is achieving. This Chancellor is leading the rest of the world in taking us out of recession. This Chancellor has taken action that the Conservative party has refused to support. What happened when we had to deal with the banks? What would the Conservatives have done? Nothing. What would they have done when we were helping mortgage holders? [Hon. Members: “Nothing.”] Nothing. What would they have done when we were helping the unemployed? [Hon. Members: “Nothing.”] Nothing. What is their policy? To do nothing. That is not the basis on which to ask for an election.

Mr. Cameron: If the Chancellor is doing such a good job, will the Prime Minister tell us whether he will be there in a week’s time?

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