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"It's a sad fact that helicopters would not have saved the lives of the individuals last week."
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): President Karzai has refused to reduce the 20-year sentence on a man sent to prison for accessing a document on the internet about human rights, yet he has given a full pardon to some young thugs who gang-raped a 13-year-old girl. Is it any wonder that Malalai Joya, a human rights award winner and Member of the Afghan Parliament, has said that human rights under Karzai are worse than under the Taliban? Also, is it right that we should ask our young men to put their lives at risk in support of Karzai's thuggish police and his mediaeval view of human rights?
The Prime Minister: Yesterday I raised the question of the family law being enacted in Afghanistan, as I have on many occasions. We want to make it absolutely clear that we can support only legislation that guarantees basic rights, particularly those of women in Afghanistan. I urged President Karzai to look at any amendments that were necessary to protect basic women's rights, particularly the rights of under-age girls in Afghanistan. He assured me that this was what he would do, and I shall be able to report back to the House when asked.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): May I join in paying tribute to those who have lost their lives in fighting to protect our country in the mountains of Afghanistan? I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that sufficient resources and manpower are made available to them to do the job. Will he tell me what assessment he has made of the impact of the climate change package on the public finances, on energy costs and on job losses in this country, especially given the fact that a number of important developing countries have refused to sign up to the targets?
The Prime Minister:
First, it is going to be important that all countries sign up to a climate change deal at Copenhagen. We do not want to be in the position that we found ourselves in after Kyoto, in which some countries had signed up and others had not. It is important for the health of the world economy as well as for action on climate change that we persuade the developing countries to join. Secondly, I regard the climate change challenge and the carbon reduction challenge as something that can create jobs and make it possible for our economy to do well in selling to the rest of the world. We believe that, in five years' time-10 years' time is probably the
better figure to give-there will be more than 1 million people employed in green jobs and carbon-related jobs. I believe that this could be a major provider of wealth for the British economy. If we can get the technology right and sell it to the rest of the world, and create jobs as a result of that, the carbon challenge will be one that we can meet successfully in our own interests as well as in the interests of the world.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have heard today from a constituent about the kidnapping of a relative of hers by the Taliban in Pakistan, and about his wife and children fleeing for their lives and going into hiding? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the action that we are taking is essential for the cohesion and security of our close friend, Commonwealth partner and ally, Pakistan, whose future, like ours, depends on the success of our action in Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes very wise comments about the connection between Afghanistan and Pakistan. First, let me say to him that if I can help in any way with his constituent's problem, will he please raise it with me directly and I will investigate what has happened? It is important to recognise that the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan army are now taking action in the Swat valley against the Pakistan Taliban, and that they are preparing to take action in Waziristan against al-Qaeda as well. That is an important development for the future prospects of security in the region. The fact that action is being taken in Pakistan, and that it is being complemented by the action that we are taking in Afghanistan, means that there is a legitimate hope that we can curtail the threat from terrorism and, at the same time, strengthen the institutions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like my right hon. Friend, I want Pakistan to be a strong member of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Rather than asking the defence chiefs to give the Prime Minister an assurance that, as he put it in his carefully chosen words, "we have the manpower we need for the current operations", will he ask them whether we have the manpower successfully to deliver the current strategy? Were he to do so, I think that he might get a different answer.
The Prime Minister: I have been very clear about what we are doing in Afghanistan. We are trying to take ground, to hold that ground and to make that ground safe for a democracy and for the provision of services to the Afghan people. The exercise, Panther's Claw, which is being carried out at the moment, has the resources that are necessary and is making real advances. As for what happens after the election period, I have already made it clear that there will be discussions with America-which is reviewing its strategy and has agreed that it will have a review after the Afghan elections-and that we will be part of that reconsideration.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab):
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking the lead in securing G8 agreement on ambitious climate change targets. I also thank him for his answer to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). Will my right hon. Friend tell me what steps will be taken to nurture companies that are
developing green technologies in the UK, and thus to secure valuable manufacturing jobs while helping us to meet our emissions reduction targets?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we are asking companies to consider moving into green, low-carbon technologies, and we have to make it possible for them to get the necessary investment to make that happen. In the past two weeks, we have set up the innovation fund, which will enable companies with low-carbon technology innovations to apply for help. We estimate that, along with the £150 million that we are investing, about £1 billion of private investment will come forward. Any company in my hon. Friend's constituency or elsewhere in the country that wishes to see investment in low-carbon technology and believes that it can benefit from the innovation fund should apply for that support. This is how we can develop the new technologies that we can sell to the world, and the jobs that are essential for the future.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): This time last year, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade were losing their lives in Afghanistan. Does the Prime Minister recall that I was critical then of the failure of major European countries to commit troops, helicopters, resources and financial support to that effort in southern Afghanistan. Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's reference in his statement to burden-sharing and his specific comment that, "In Afghanistan, international forces must take the lead on the front line", will he name the major European countries that over the past year have committed soldiers on the ground in Helmand province, provided helicopters and other military equipment and provided financial support for the British effort in Helmand?
The Prime Minister: Estonia and Denmark are working with the United States and Britain in Helmand. Countries present at the NATO summit pledged, I believe, 5,000 more troops for the election period. We set up the helicopter fund, which I think is now £13 million, and countries such as ourselves and France are contributing, while there are, of course, some countries that are prepared to use the helicopter capability, but do not have the resources to make the adjustments necessary for Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman will know that France has sent just under 1,000 extra troops over the last few months.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): First, I join others in offering my condolences to the families and friends of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan-the genuine concern at the high human cost of that engagement is sometimes debased by cheap political commentary. On the substance of the Prime Minister's statement, he said that the leaders of the G8 agreed to do what it takes to make progress on growth, commodity prices and trade. On commodity prices, does the Prime Minister believe that that will include curbing the ability of banks and other financial institutions in the future to speculate on commodity indices and futures in a way that drove price surges in food and fuel in the past?
The Prime Minister:
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments on Afghanistan. As far as oil is concerned, yes, we are looking at what is happening in the oil
commodities market at the moment. Prices have gone up by 75 per cent. over the last few weeks-oil was $35 a barrel and has risen to $75. It is probably down today, but oil price rises are very difficult for industry and people to accept if they lead to rising fuel bills. We are looking at what is happening in the marketplace and we will take any necessary regulatory measures.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): May I assure my right hon. Friend that the House, and indeed the whole country, will be very reassured by his assurance that we are strictly realistic in our aims in Afghanistan? While part of the realism has to be the defeat of the Taliban, may not a broader political settlement involve some basic accommodation with the tribal factions, notably those of the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun? Sooner or later, that will be essential if we are to succeed.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right that the tribal chiefs and tribes in Afghanistan have to be involved in any settlement that is going to work. Some tribal leaders are, of course, drug lords, and it is difficult to deal with them, but we must involve tribal chiefs and leaderships in any settlement that comes forward. There has been a shift in strategy to enable them to be involved in discussions that I hope will lead to greater reconciliation in Afghanistan. He is absolutely right that it is the combination of the military action we have taken, the building up of Afghan police and security, the development of relationships at the local level with the tribal chiefs, at the same time as pursuing a course of economic and social development, that will bring stability to Afghanistan and ensure that the land is free of terrorist influence.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in this country think that the policy in Afghanistan is fundamentally misplaced, that it has done nothing to control the drugs trade, that it has probably increased support for the Taliban and will inevitably involve NATO and other forces crossing the border into Pakistan with the further problems that will result from that? Is it not time for a complete rethink of the entire strategy?
The Prime Minister: I hope that my hon. Friend will look at the strategy that we announced in April and the way in which we have developed it over the past few months, and will note that President Obama in America is pursuing a course very similar to ours.
The fact of the matter is-and we cannot ignore it-that three quarters of terrorist plots start in the mountainous and border areas around Pakistan. Before 2001, al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan; now it is based in Pakistan. If we are to make our streets safe in Britain, we must consider what is happening in those regions. That is why our strategy is not simply military, but is intended-alongside military action-to build up the Afghan forces, to develop the Afghan economy and, of course, to deal with the heroin trade in Afghanistan. I hope that, on reflection, my hon. Friend will recognise that people are safer in London because of the actions that we are taking in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. A motion was passed on 3 July last year in relation to removing the preferential tax status of Members of Parliament apropos second homes and capital gains tax. Although it may not have found favour with the House of Commons Commission, it was passed by the House, and therefore should have been implemented. What concerns me is that it has not been implemented. While Sir Christopher Kelly may wisely choose to go beyond it in his recommendations to the House, it remains the policy of the House, and should have been implemented from 3 July. What is the House of Commons Commission going to do to implement the will of the House?
That the period on the expiry of which proceedings on the Political Parties and Elections Bill shall lapse in pursuance of paragraph (13) of Standing Order No. 80A shall be extended by 15 weeks until 29 October 2009.
The House will be aware that because this is a carry-over Bill, which was introduced on 17 July 2008, it will fall if it does not receive Royal Assent before 17 July 2009. It should receive Royal Assent before that date, or before the House rises for the recess at the very latest. However, it is only prudent for us to take precautions to ensure that it will endure in the event of parliamentary timetabling-which is always strained at this point in the Session-making it impossible for it to complete its passage within that time frame. The extension motion is intended to ensure that the life of the Bill-an important Bill that has spent some time in the House already-will continue beyond 17 July this year if that is necessary for the effective timetabling of parliamentary business. The motion in no way reflects any lessening of the Government's determination to put the Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible-I hope that Members in all parts of the House will agree on that-but it is only right for us to make provision for all future possibilities.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I agree that the Bill is important, but I am concerned about the date of 29 October that the Government have specified in the motion. Clause 14, for example, introduces important new regulations that will take effect on 1 January, and an Electoral Commission consultation must take place between Royal Assent and that date. What concerns me is that an extension until 29 October will not allow enough time.
Mr. Wills: That concerns me as well, which is why I stressed our determination to complete the Bill's passage by the recess at the very latest. I look forward to the co-operation of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, all Members, because it is important for the Bill to be on the statute book as soon as possible. This is merely a prudent measure to ensure that it does not fall altogether.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I think it fair to say that the Minister and I, and our respective teams, have come a long way with this marathon piece of legislation. What was a very weak and partisan Bill became-bit by bit, debate by debate, in both Houses-a Bill that I think we can broadly say was built on consensus. I am afraid, however, that that seems no longer to be the case. Given that we received the Minister's amendments only today, no one has yet been able to give proper and full consideration to the impact of clause 8 in its amended state. The Bill contains complicated clauses with significant underlying issues and complex tax implications. As it happens, we think that these provisions still have serious flaws and weaknesses, but that apart, from a procedural point of view, this is no way to make law.
In the other place, the Minister, Lord Bach, said most stridently that he was against what was then called the Campbell-Savours amendment and that it was "unrealistic and cannot work", yet here we are just one month later with the Government accepting the amendment in principle. The Minister needs to explain why this U-turn came about. Have the Government really become so weak that they have to introduce a series of major amendments to our electoral law just a few hours before they are debated? Frankly, this is outrageous. The Bill has been passing through Parliament for more than 18 months and it is unacceptable that this issue could not have been dealt with earlier within one of the two Houses.
The Government have consistently maintained that they want this Bill-the Minister just did so once again. They want it as a revision of electoral law and party funding, and they also want proceedings on it to be conducted in a consensual manner-and for the most part, after the revision of the overly partisan initial Bill, that has been the case. I should take this opportunity to acknowledge the usual spirit of co-operation that we have enjoyed with the Secretary of State and his Minister. However, it is totally unacceptable for them to come here today and announce this major change of policy, which I first saw only in Saturday's edition of The Guardian, and then to throw six pages of complicated amendments at us this morning. This is no way to behave; this is no way to act like a responsible Government.
What we are seeing here is the dying embers of a rudderless Government who have once again failed to control their Back Benchers. The reality of this situation is that it is a problem for the Government, not for us. So let me make it very clear that this Bill no longer carries cross-party support. Our position now is that the Government should take this Bill away, rethink it and come back in the next Session with a new Bill that we can debate properly. A significant number of knock-on issues emanate from this, and we need to think them through carefully. For these reasons, we will be asking the House to divide on this carry-over motion, and I recommend that my hon. Friends vote against its extension.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): As the Minister said, Standing Order No. 80A(13) provides for carry-overs to last only one year, and that year comes to an end on 17 July, hence the need for an extension motion under Standing Order No. 80A(14).
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) said that the Bill no longer carried consensus because of the Government's concessions on the clauses to do with tax exile donors. On the substance of that matter, I welcome very much the Government's concession and, as far as we are concerned, this increases, not decreases, the degree of consensus on the Bill. However, I do share the hon. Gentleman's concern over the process. This is now quite a short and insignificant Bill that has taken more than a year to get to its current state, but our debates on it have repeatedly been cut short. As a result, in the debates in Committee and on Report, only one of all the Hayden Phillips proposals that Liberal Democrat Members were proposing ever got to a vote. The Government constantly said there was not enough time to debate very important issues. In fact, on Report we ran out of time and could not discuss properly the very issue the hon. Member for Huntingdon has raised. For
the Government to come forward at this stage with a carry-over motion on the grounds that we are running out of time, and on that very morning to table new and serious-even though very welcome-amendments strikes me as an abuse of process.
I want these clauses to work, but we have not had time to consider them in the depth that they deserve. I am concerned whether they will properly cover the devices that donors enter into to avoid being captured by the law-but I shall say more about that later. Those of us who might have had legitimate amendments to suggest to the Government's proposals have had no time to table them. The only thing that we can do is suggest manuscript amendments, and that is far from the proper procedure. As a member of the prospective committee on procedure to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), I will raise this matter elsewhere.
The Government should be given a strict deadline to get this Bill through. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), I do not think that that deadline can possibly be 29 October, because by then it will be too late to implement the Bill. If there were to be an extension of the carry-over, it should not go beyond 21 July. With great reluctance-because I strongly support the Government's concession on the major issue before us-I will advise my hon. Friends to oppose the carry-over extension.
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