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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 19 October 2009

Energy and Climate Change

Correction to Written Answer

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): I would like to inform the House that a written answer I gave on 12 October 2009, Official Report, column 486W to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. David Evennett), was incorrect. The hon. Member's question tabled on 2 September 2009 asked what representations were made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change concerning the power cut at Dartford Creek on 20 July.

In my written answer I said there had been no representations but my right hon. Friend had in fact received letters from the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), dated 28 September 2009, the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), dated 3 August 2009. Regrettably, these letters were not taken into account due to an administrative error within my Department when compiling the answer. I can confirm that my officials are reviewing the handling procedures for dealing with parliamentary correspondence to ensure that this does not happen again.

I apologise to the House and the three hon. Members for this error.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UK Bovine Eradication Plan (2010)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): On Friday 16 October the European Commission's Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) agreed to provide up to €10 million of EU funding to support the UK's bovine tuberculosis (TB) eradication programme for 2010. Their decision to provide financial support to the UK is welcome assistance to our efforts to tackle this worrying, complex and costly disease.

The UK eradication plan, submitted to the European Commission on 15 September, sets out the planned programme of TB surveillance, control and eradication for England, Wales and Northern Ireland during 2010 (Scotland is not required to submit a plan having achieved officially TB free status). The EU funding can be used to offset the costs of TB testing and compensation for cattle slaughtered within this programme. DEFRA will work with the administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland to agree how this funding will be shared.

I would like to take this opportunity also to acknowledge the excellent work of the TB eradication group for England, whose recommendations on strengthening the eradication programme in England helped ensure the
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approval of the UK's plan. The group's first report has recently been published and I am placing copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Judicial Review: Binyam Mohamed

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): On Friday 16 October, the High Court handed its fifth judgment in the Binyam Mohamed case. We are deeply disappointed by the judgment, which concludes that a summary of US intelligence material, prepared by the judges, should be put into the public domain against the clear and express wishes of the United States. We will be appealing in the strongest possible terms.

Since we secured the release of the material at issue to Mr. Mohamed's lawyers by the US Government last October, for use in his defence before the US military commission, the only remaining issue for the Court was whether they should order public disclosure of seven summary paragraphs of intelligence material received from the US about his treatment while in Pakistan in 2002.

The Court in its fourth judgment, handed down on 4 February, acknowledged my assessment, made after careful consideration of the US position and considered advice from our intelligence agencies and other senior UK officials that making the seven paragraphs public against the wishes of the US would cause harm to our national security.

And on 23 February, we succeeded in ensuring Mr. Mohamed's release from Guantanamo and his return to the UK, following strenuous efforts by the Government over the course of 18 months. The Court, throughout its judgments, has noted the "considerable efforts" made in this regard.

The Court subsequently reopened its fourth judgment on 6 May on the basis that it did not know whether the position of the Obama Administration regarding disclosure was the same as the Bush Administration's position, on which it had based its judgment. While there was indeed a new President and a new Administration in the US, my assessment of the risk to UK national security remained the same: that disclosure by a UK Court of a summary of US intelligence material will harm our national security. This assessment was again informed by correspondence from the Obama Administration-from both the CIA and the White House-as well as by my own discussions of this matter with Secretary of State Clinton. In making this assessment I was again carefully advised by our intelligence agencies and other senior UK officials who are familiar with intelligence matters.

The conclusions reached in Friday's judgment were based on the premise that the principle of control of intelligence is not absolute. However, the principle is at the heart of all intelligence relationships: intelligence material communicated in confidence must be protected and cannot be released without the consent of the owner. However, we only share British intelligence with other countries on the basis that they will not disclose it without our express permission. The same inviolable principle applies to foreign intelligence shared with us. If this principle is undermined, the sharing of intelligence will most certainly be hindered. And at a time when the
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UK faces a serious threat from international terrorism, the Government will not take risks with intelligence that is essential to national security and shared with us by many states.

The Court found that there was insufficient evidence to amount to a real risk that the US would reassess its intelligence sharing relationship or reduce its intelligence sharing relationship with the UK because there was no "explicit statement of consequences (of disclosure by the Court) by the Obama Administration". In my judgment, the comments of the Obama Administration, now made public, from the CIA, the President's National Security Adviser, and Secretary Clinton, show this not to be the case, and certainly not a risk worth taking. The seriousness of the Obama Administration's determination to uphold the principle of control which underpins decades of intelligence sharing between our two countries is there for all to see in the records of successive correspondence from and discussions with senior figures in the Obama Administration. In the Government's view, the Court has failed to accord proper weight to these factors or this assessment. On such a fundamental issue, it is right and proper that we appeal its judgment.

Hon. Members will be aware that in the course of this case, Mr. Mohamed made extremely serious allegations about his mistreatment while in detention. We have been completely clear on this issue: the British Government stand firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; we do not condone collude, encourage or solicit it. We take all allegations of wrongdoing very seriously. Allegations that British officials were mixed up in wrongdoing in this case are now properly being investigated by the police. And Mr. Mohamed is also bringing a separate legal claim for damages against the Government. This will be addressed by the courts in due course.

In this case, however, the fundamental question at issue is not the mistreatment allegations made by Mr. Mohamed. It is about the principle underpinning intelligence sharing and the assessment of the risks to the United Kingdom's national security that would follow from a breach of this principle. Though I have no objection to the material becoming public, and have made this clear throughout, it is for the US to release its own material, not the UK.

I am determined that the vigour with which we fight this case will maintain the confidence of and send a clear message to all our intelligence partners across the world: the United Kingdom will protect the information that you share with us and uphold the principle that it is for you, not us or our courts, to decide if and when to release such material into the public domain.

International Development


The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Twenty-five years after the famine in Ethiopia that killed over a million people, there is once again a growing drought and conflict-related humanitarian crisis in the horn of Africa.

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Ethiopia accounts for the highest proportion of the humanitarian caseload in the region, with over 6 million people needing emergency assistance until the end of 2009. A third of these people live in the Somali region of Ethiopia. UNICEF estimates that there are currently over 500,000 acutely malnourished children in Ethiopia. A further 7.5 million vulnerable Ethiopians receive food and cash transfers under a Productive Safety Net Programme.

">http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm091103/corrtext/91103c0001.htm#column_8MC">[Official Report, 3 November 2009, Vol. 498, c. 8MC.]

The humanitarian outlook for 2010 is very worrying. The current humanitarian crisis could tip over into a humanitarian catastrophe. The prospects for the main harvest in November, which accounts for 90 per cent. of Ethiopia's annual food production, are a particular cause for concern. The late arrival of the rains and prolonged dry spells mean that the harvest is likely to be below average at best, with total crop failure a possibility in some parts of the country. A mid-season assessment is currently under way, and will provide a clearer picture of likely humanitarian needs into 2010.

I recently announced an additional, immediate £30 million of emergency aid for Ethiopia, to help make sure that there is sufficient food for those who need it. This additional finance takes the total emergency aid provided by DFID in Ethiopia this year to £49 million, making the UK the second largest bilateral humanitarian contributor after the US.

The additional £30 million included £15 million for the UN World Food Programme to ensure that 3.4 million people receive food rations in October, and £3 million for UNICEF to pay for the treatment of up to 40,000 children with acute malnutrition. Through a common humanitarian fund, we are also providing funds for NGOs to provide life saving nutrition, water and sanitation.

Alongside this emergency support, we are continuing to finance the Productive Safety Nets Programme (PSNP), which aims to protect and build the assets of vulnerable people and reduce their dependency on food aid in the medium-term. So far in 2009, we have contributed £35 million to the PSNP.

If the forthcoming main harvest does fail, significant scaling-up efforts by the Government of Ethiopia and the international community will be needed to prevent the current crisis becoming a catastrophe in 2010. We continue to encourage the Government of Ethiopia to: publish updated humanitarian requirements as quickly as possible following each assessment; acknowledge the size and scope of the crisis; initiate contingency planning for 2010 as soon as the outlook is known; and facilitate access for all humanitarian actors, particularly in the Somali region where humanitarian delivery is complicated by a long-running insurgency.

In recent months, the UK has stepped up its advocacy among international partners, urging them to contribute additional resources in sufficient time to avoid gaps in the humanitarian pipeline. And in Ethiopia, DFID continues to monitor the situation on the ground, and is leading efforts to improve the effectiveness of the response and secure better and faster access for UN agencies and NGOs to affected areas.

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