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2 Nov 2009 : Column 595

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is now in the mainstream of the Conservative party. His policies in favour of withdrawing and relegating the European Union's relationship with Britain are well known. I must say to him, however, that when the new treaty was drawn up and agreed, the first words of the communiqué were that the constitutional concept had been abandoned. He should recognise that the Lisbon treaty met all our negotiating requirements, and that that is why we were able to recommend it to the House of Commons.

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): The Prime Minister is right to emphasise the leadership given by the European Union over many years in confronting global warming and reducing emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases. May I plead with him to continue his unremitting efforts to ensure that, after the Copenhagen conference on climate change, there will indeed be another protocol to follow the one from Kyoto?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been one of the leaders in strengthening our relationships with the European Union. During the coming week I shall be meeting Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and then Mr. Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Denmark, so that we can move forward our negotiations for a climate change deal in Copenhagen.

Britain is determined to do everything that we can to make a deal in Copenhagen possible, and it was our original proposal on finance that has commended itself to the European Union. We will continue to press forward to ensure that we make the maximum possible progress to secure a deal at Copenhagen.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): One of the reasons why we are in Afghanistan is, I think, to help to slow down and preferably stop the flow of heroin on to our streets, which causes so much misery and crime, but I believe that that flow is still very fast indeed. Can the Prime Minister give us some sort of progress report, and hopefully some optimism?

The Prime Minister: The number of poppy-free provinces in Afghanistan is, I think, now 20. The hon. Gentleman may have looked at the initiative we undertook in Helmand this year. Under the Department for International Development, we persuaded large numbers-30,000, I think-of farmers to switch from poppy production to wheat, and they have, of course, benefited from the high price of wheat during the course of the year. We are proposing to do even more next year in persuading more farmers to resist the temptations of growing poppies and at the same time getting them support so that they can grow grain. This is one of the best ways to advance our policy to rid the parts of Afghanistan for which we have some responsibility of as much of the heroin trade as possible.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the issue of the use of hydrofluorocarbons? It is essential that we deal with them alongside dealing with CO2 as part of a Europe-wide agreement. I urge my right hon. Friend to discuss this matter with the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Energy and Climate Change to ensure that we get Europe-wide agreement
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on a reduction. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give a detailed answer on that now, but I do want to draw it to his attention and urge him to discuss it.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), is sitting near me and she will talk to him about this very matter in a few minutes.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Why did the Prime Minister's notorious powers of persuasion fail to convince his European colleagues of the merits of Tony Blair's presidency?

The Prime Minister: Is it not typical of the Conservative party that its Members only ask questions about personalities? The position of the presidency of the Council has not yet been set up and the Lisbon treaty has not yet gone through. Once the Lisbon treaty has gone through and has been ratified-as I hope it will be-we can discuss these matters.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): How much confidence has the Prime Minister got in an Afghan army armed and trained by the west, as the mujaheddin once were, and their commitment to lay down their lives and slaughter fellow Afghans in the name of a corrupt President who has just rigged his re-election?

The Prime Minister: The Afghan forces that have fought alongside the British forces in recent years have been brave, determined and professional. The problem is that we do not have enough of them. We wish the Afghan forces, Afghan police and Afghan security personnel to be able to take responsibility for the management of law and order in the provinces and then throughout Afghanistan. That is what we are trying achieve, and in order to do so we will need to help train Afghan forces. So far as the rest of the question is concerned, we know there are problems of corruption in Afghanistan and we know they have got to be dealt with. The key step is to persuade the Government of Afghanistan that they must take these problems even more seriously.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): May I bring the Prime Minister back to the issue of enlargement? Does he agree that the accession of not only Croatia, but other Balkan countries and Turkey, could help to bring about success in respect of many of the items in the discussion that he has reported to us today, such as energy supply, the fight against terrorism and, above all, making Europe a more safe and secure continent for all of us?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The only difficulty his party faces is that, because there are 27 countries in the European Union, we have had to have a new treaty so we can deal with the institutional mechanisms necessary for the governance of the EU. I therefore hope that at the same time as supporting enlargement, the hon. Gentleman will support the measures that are necessary to make enlargement work.

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Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I warmly support the Prime Minister's determination to achieve an ambitious Copenhagen conference on climate change. With that in mind, will the growth in the consumption of animal wheat be on the agenda, as it significantly adds to CO2 emissions? If it is not, will my right hon. Friend allow me to invite scientists from Teesside, who will prove to him that it is essential that the item is on the Copenhagen agenda?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend puts her case with great force. I am told that livestock is on the climate change agenda. We will have to make progress in a large number of areas. It was mentioned earlier that we have to make progress in the maritime and aviation areas, and we must also make progress in deforestation-or, rather, reforestation. All these issues are part of the climate change agreement.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Prime Minister made one passing reference to allied troop contributions to Afghanistan. May I ask him whether he asked the Germans and other allies who already have troops there when they are planning to deploy them forward to the sharp end?

The Prime Minister: Before the original election in Afghanistan, I and others were party to persuading a number of countries to send additional troops to Afghanistan-that happened in a number of cases within the European Union. The issue now, which was raised by the McChrystal report, is what numbers different countries will be prepared to offer following the elections. That is a matter for discussion at NATO in the next few days. I believe not only that we will have proposals arising from McChrystal very soon, but that we have already taken the right decision, which is that we are prepared to put additional forces in, subject to the conditions that I laid down in Parliament: that Afghan forces are available to be trained, and that we have an agreement among the coalition.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): In the light of continuing terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including this morning's bombing in Rawalpindi, what additional support did the Council agree to aid the security situation in that country?

The Prime Minister: We are doing a great deal to co-operate with the Pakistan security forces, now that
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they are prepared to take action, not just in the areas where they have been tackling the Pakistan Taliban, but in areas near to where al-Qaeda is based. We are also giving the Pakistan authorities help when there are displaced people as a result of the conflict, and our overseas development aid to Pakistan is being raised for those areas of Pakistan that have been most susceptible to these activities. We are giving more money, in particular, to help the education of young children in the northern areas of Pakistan.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Does the Prime Minister think that people would be more likely to believe what he has to say about matters such as climate change if he had kept his promise to have a referendum on the EU constitution-now renamed the "Lisbon treaty"? Could he tell us what his moral compass tells him about that broken promise?

The Prime Minister: I reported to the House that the constitutional concept had been abandoned as a result of the talks that led to the treaty. The House voted on this issue of a referendum on the treaty itself. The Conservative party voted in favour of a referendum on this treaty. The Leader of the Opposition gave a "cast-iron guarantee" that he would have a referendum. We must also be clear that the Opposition have voted that they wish to withdraw from the social chapter and European employment legislation, but for that they would need the support of 26 other members of the European Union. From what I saw when I was in Brussels this week, there was very little support for the position of the Conservative leader.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What keeps the Prime Minister awake more at night: the prospect of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) becoming Prime Minister or that of Tony Blair becoming president of Europe?

The Prime Minister: I sleep very well at night. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it would be in Britain's national interests to have a former Prime Minister of our country as president of the European Council. I think that the Conservatives are making a mistake if they want to send out a message to the rest of Europe that they do not want a British person to hold this job. Presumably they want someone from another country to hold this job-presumably someone who also holds a federalist position in Europe. The Conservatives should go back to the drawing board on this and think again.

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Point of Order

4.38 pm

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a written answer to me on 27 October 2009, Health Ministers claimed that the reason for their delay in publishing the final report from the Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board, which is examining weaknesses in Government policy on malnutrition, was because the board was "independent of Government" and that there had been a delay by the board's independent members in producing the report. However, in the same answer the Health Ministers said that the reason for the ongoing delay now that the report is with the Department is that the report now needs to be "considered by Ministers". Of course, while the delay is ongoing, the appalling burden of malnutrition is getting worse. Is it in order for Ministers to delay the publication of a report that is apparently independent of government, yet which the Government have pledged to publish, when it has, according to the written parliamentary answer, been with Ministers since as far back as "July"?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) for his point of order and for advance notice of it. Sadly, I must reiterate a central point in this Chamber: that the timing of the release of Government reports is a matter for the Government. The hon. Gentleman has registered his serious discontent with what he regards as an unacceptable delay. The point is on the record, and it will have been heard by Ministers and indeed by others.

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Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill [ Lords]

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Queen's consent signified.

4.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is a pleasure to be here to guide the Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill through its final stage in the House. It is a good example of the valuable expert work that the Law Commission has done to simplify the law, particularly in those areas that are difficult and truly lawyers' law. I want to take this opportunity to thank the commission for all the hard work that it has done on this project.

Although our own procedures were unchanged, the Bill was the first candidate under a trial of a new procedure in the other place for appropriate Law Commission Bills. I think that that procedure will help further to support the Law Commission's work in making the law modern and more effective. I want to take this opportunity to thank Members on both sides of the House for their support. The Bill has been though a thorough procedure in the other place. There were no amendments made in the Public Bill Committee, and I commend the Bill to the House.

4.41 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): First, I declare an interest as a barrister who, during my time at the Bar, did a certain amount of chancery law. I also remember being taught the law of perpetuities and accumulations both at university and at law school. It is obviously an extremely complicated subject and one that at first looked as though it lent itself to the new procedure that the Minister talked about-the fast-track procedure for non-controversial Bills. During its progress through the other place, however, the Bill attracted a great deal of interest and was subject to a great deal of very useful scrutiny. To say that it is a non-controversial Bill is probably a mistake, because it threw up a number of significant controversies.

I want to ask the Minister whether, with the paucity of business going through the House, the Bill could have been subject to the normal procedure. There has been a lack of Bills going through this House during this Session, and it would have been quite easy to have fitted in the Bill, which would have given everyone a chance to conduct more conventional scrutiny and, above all, more opportunities for different organisations to contact people about the Bill.

I regret the fact that the Law Commission has not briefed hon. Members on the Bill. I also want to flag up the fact that the explanatory notes are meant to explain the Bill, not tie up the reader in knots. It is a pity that the explanatory notes were not a little more user-friendly, and perhaps lessons can be learned from that. My submission is that the absence of a law degree would make the notes almost impossible to understand. However, we are where we are.

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The Opposition wish the Bill well. It goes back a long way, to the 1993 report by the Law Commission and its consultation paper No. 130, which was published in that year. The Law Commission then brought out a report in 1998, "The rules against perpetuities and excessive accumulations". We then had the Government consultation of 2002 and, in due course, this Bill, which has been a long time coming. Why did Ministers not get on with the Bill and push it through at an earlier stage? There have been occasions over the past few years when it could easily have been brought before the House in its normal, conventional format.

The Bill is important, because trusts are very important mechanisms. More than 200,000 taxpaying trusts are in existence. There are many other trusts, obviously including a large number of charitable trusts. It has been reported recently that there are roughly 500,000 millionaires in this country. Many of them will want to tie up their wealth and estates for the next generation, and having the opportunity to do so through trusts is a very important mechanism that should be available to people. However, it is also important that those trusts are as user-friendly as possible. Furthermore, at a time when capital is much more footloose in the context of a global economy, those trusts must be as flexible as possible, so they must change with the times. That is why the Bill is certainly a move in the right direction, and why it is absolutely right that the Government have considered perpetuities and accumulations.

On perpetuities, there was a long-standing common law rule that a testator could not tie up an estate in perpetuity. The so-called dead hand rule came in, and common law did very well in that respect. It laid down that it was possible to limit the extent to which the dead hand of a deceased settlor could control the devolution of their property into the future. In other words, the rule against perpetuities exists to prevent both those who are over-enthusiastic in their attempts to keep property in their families and the downright eccentric from trying to control for ever the property that was theirs during their lifetime.

The common law, which had been around for many years, was updated by the Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 1964, which introduced the wait-and-see mechanism, which was tied to the new 80-year rule. But, of course, there were problems, not least because the perpetuities rule was extended to commercial transactions and, in particular, to the creation of future easements, options, rights of pre-emption and other controls for the sale and disposition of land. The overwhelming conclusion was that those commercial transactions should be cut loose from the rule. So I congratulate the Minister and her team on introducing measures that take such transactions outside the perpetuities rule.

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