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Q4. [310399] Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): We have heard why, however implausibly, the Prime Minister will not give evidence to the Chilcot inquiry before the general election, but may I ask him a question that he can answer right now, because I am simply asking for his opinion? Alastair Campbell made it clear yesterday that this Prime Minister was
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intrinsically involved in all the decision making in the run-up to Iraq, so does he personally regret any of the decisions taken in the preparations for, and conduct of, the war in Iraq? Is he personally sorry?

The Prime Minister: I have already said that the reconstruction that was done after the war effort in Iraq was insufficient; the general view held by many people who have looked into this is that insufficient preparations were made for that. But I was part of the Cabinet that made the decisions on Iraq, and I stand by the decisions we made.

Q5. [310400] Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): This week, a Member of the House has resigned, with mental illness being a factor. I make no comment about individual cases, but as the law stands any Member of this House who suffers a bout of serious mental illness can be automatically disqualified from office, no matter what the prospects of recovery. That is wrong, and it would never be tolerated for a physical illness, no matter how debilitating. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity presented by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to implement the Speaker's Conference recommendation that this wrong should be righted?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has raised a very important issue. The Justice Secretary and the Health Secretary are giving careful consideration to the appropriate way forward, and I understand that we will also respond in due course to the recommendation to the Speaker's Conference report that was published on Monday.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The first duty of any Government is to keep our nation safe. Given the tens of thousands of abuses of tourist visas, work visas and other visas, how confident is the Prime Minister that he has a firm grip on this nation's national security?

The Prime Minister: At every point we try to be as vigilant as possible in the way we run the services that are necessary for our national security. Immediately after the Detroit attempted bomb on Christmas day, it was for us also to make sure that our security arrangements for people coming into the country were satisfactory, and I ordered a review of those arrangements, as I told the House last week. Equally, we also decided that the co-ordination of our different services is an important issue, and, facing new technology and new methods being used by terrorist groups, we had to do more to ensure the full co-ordination of all our services to deal with potential incidents. That is another set of work that has been put in motion. So at all times we seek to be vigilant. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the introduction of biometric visas and then of the e-Borders system will be of great benefit to us in being able to identify people coming into and going out of the country, and I hope there will be all-party support for that.

Q6. [310401] Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Employment in the public sector is very important to the economy of Wales, and cuts in the short term would impede the recovery of the private sector. Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the difference between the impact of the tough but long-term approach he is taking and of the precipitate, immediate and unplanned cuts that are demanded by the Leader of the Opposition?

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The Prime Minister: I can say from the work that has been done that if we had pursued the same policies as in the 1980s and the 1990s, 1.7 million fewer people would be employed today. It is because we took action to help young people into work and to help small businesses that the unemployment claimant count, which was 10 per cent. or higher in some of the recessions of '80s and '90s, has remained half that today, and we are determined to do still more to help young people into work and those adults who are looking for work. The difference is this: when it came to the recession, other parties were prepared to walk by on the other side, but we decided to act.

Q7. [310402] Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): What is the Prime Minister's attitude to the current situation in the western Sahara?

The Prime Minister: I am thinking of all the issues that the hon. Gentleman wishes me to talk about in relation to the western Sahara. The one thing that I have been worried about is the growth of ethnic violence in these areas. The one thing that we have tried to do is increase-indeed, double-our aid to these areas, and the one thing that we have been worried about is the growth of terrorist groups in these areas. That is why we are taking the action that is necessary to dissuade people from terrorism. I have had numerous conversations with leaders in these areas. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to direct me to a specific point, I will take it up.

Q13. [310408] Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister recall in September 2008 acclaiming the success of the 16 Air Assault Brigade and 2,000 British soldiers in delivering to the Kajaki dam a turbine? Will he tell the House why that turbine, which cost lives, has not been installed? Who makes these important military so-called strategic decisions? The turbine was delivered at a high price and has not been installed-

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have got the thrust of it.

The Prime Minister: I have investigated the issue. Rightly, it is asked of us why the turbine is not working, when it was delivered at great cost in terms of lives and effort. Other sources of power have been found for the areas that were supposed to be served, but it is still our intention that that turbine be used to create the power that is necessary for the economic advance that is possible.

Q8. [310403] Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Essex teenage tearaways are being sent to a sensitive residential area in Castle Point by Essex county council without any consultation whatsoever. They are terrorising residents, elderly frail people and businesses with extreme bad behaviour. Does the Prime Minister agree that people should always be properly consulted, and that the location of those establishments should be sensitively and carefully considered? Essex county council should be ashamed of putting it-

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have got the thrust of it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

The Prime Minister: No one should be expected to suffer from antisocial behaviour. That is why we have created neighbourhood policing units that have a responsibility for dealing with antisocial behaviour as well as with crime. It is also why we are targeting
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families such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentions, whose lives are so chaotic that they are disrupting the lives of people around them. No pensioner, in particular, should be expected to suffer from that. That is why next month we will be announcing new measures to help people who are victims of antisocial behaviour, so that we can get quick action to them as well as deal with the problems at source. I hope the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we are taking the action that is necessary, but recognise that this is a problem for many people in the country.

Q15. [310410] Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Today's stunning results in the schools in Staffordshire, Moorlands demonstrate 10 years of remarkable achievement and a decade of investment in dilapidated schools transforming them into modern learning centres for the whole community. Why is it- [Interruption.]-that the hardworking students and the efforts of school staff, head teachers and governors are constantly talked down by the Opposition?

The Prime Minister: They can try and shout down good news but we will tell people. Ten or 12 years ago there were 1,600 underperforming schools in our country when we came to power. Today the figure announced is fewer than 250. This a huge change that is being met by
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the national educational challenge. We should continue to ensure that by 2011 there is not one underperforming school in our country. We ought to offer the best education to every child. Even if Conservative Members sneer, we will continue to finance the education of every young person in this country.

Q9. [310404] Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for playing extra time. May I ask the Prime Minister what he is doing to prevent the population of this country from reaching 70 million?

The Prime Minister: We have introduced the points system for immigration. The points system is working because where we need no unskilled workers and need workers who have specialist skills but not other workers with skills, they will not now be invited into the country. Of course, when people come into the country, they must have a contribution to make to this country. The points system is ensuring that net migration is falling. It is also ensuring that where we do not need workers to come into the country, they do not come in.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I should be grateful if Members who are leaving the Chamber would do so quickly and quietly.

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Withers LLP (Privilege)

12.35 pm

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) has drawn my attention to an e-mail he received from Withers LLP, a firm of solicitors, which could in his view amount to a contempt of the House by seeking to intimidate a Member in his parliamentary conduct.

I have decided that this is a matter to which I should allow precedence. Therefore, under the rules set out at pages 167 to 168 of "Erskine May", the hon. Gentleman may table a motion for debate at the commencement of public business tomorrow. It will appear on the Order Paper after any statements and before the topical debate on Afghanistan.

I shall arrange for the text of the e-mail to be published in the Official Report.

Following is the text of the e-mail:

[ Sent: Tuesday, August 04, 2009 5:51 PM

Subject: Private and Confidential

Dear Mr Hemming

Thank you for your various e-mails yesterday. My client's response to the points which y ou have raised in these and earlier correspondence is as follows.

1. The original leaflet and offending text

It is abundantly clear that the offending text referred to, and would have been understood by those reading it to refer to, our client. You have alleged that the c ompulsory purchase order (CPO) proceedings involve other parties. However, it is clear from Councillor David Osborne's evidence given to the public inquiry on 14 July 2009 that he was not aware of any other parties who owned plots or who were objecting to Tesco's proposals and presenting alternative proposals other than our client. Asda and Sainsburys had already sold their land to Tesco. It is clear from the context of the offending text that you were only referring to plots of land which are part of the CPO and only the plots owned by our client. Even though he was not specifically named, he was clearly identifiable to the thousands of people to whom you distributed your defamatory and maliciously false leaflet.

You were clearly wrong to say that our client purchased his plots with the intention of delaying the Tesco development, as you now admit. Moreover, we do not agree that a landowner objecting to a CPO of his land and who has made very serious alternative proposals for redevelopment can he be guilty of "spoiling tactics" and this defamatory and maliciously false allegation is strongly objected to by our client.

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In order to settle this matter we, therefore, require an apology in respect of both the serious allegations plus payment of our client's costs, a substantial payment to a charity of his choice and an undertaking not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations, particularly in Parliament.

Your threat to make a statement in the House of Commons referring to our client's alleged "spoiling tactics" in this and other situations and that our client's threatened proceedings amount to "bullying and an attempt to gag opponents" is tantamount to blackmail. These allegations are untrue as our client is only trying to put right a serious wrong to his reputation. We note that you would only make these allegations under the cover of parliamentary privilege. My client objects very strongly to you doing this and would ensure, via other sources, that the House of Commons were fully appraised of the true situation and not misled.

We deny that our client has been involved in any "spoiling tactics" at the Swan, Maypole or in Worcester. He certainly does not have, as you claim, a track record of "spoiling tactics". By making such allegations you are clearly aggravating the damages which you will now have to pay to a charity of our client's choice.

You say that you have spent time meeting my client and talking about the Swan development. Notwithstanding, it seems that you have failed to understand what my client is trying to achieve.

All that my client wants is to vindicate his reputation as swiftly as possible. However, if a suitable correction and apology, costs, damages and an undertaking not to repeat these or any similar defamatory and maliciously false allegations cannot swiftly be agreed, he will have no alternative but to issue proceedings.

We obviously also need to discuss how quickly you can circulate your apology around the constituency. Clearly this will have to be done much more quickly than your usual six weekly cycle in order to alleviate the continuing harm to our client's reputation.

Meanwhile, could you please inform us, as we requested in our original letter of 29 July 2009, how many copies of the offending text were distributed; who wrote the offending text; who authorised its publication; who published it; and the date of issue.

2. Alternative wording to those to whom the original leaflet was not delivered

As previously indicated today, our client has no objection to replace the offending text with the new text set out in your e-mail of yesterday's date sent at 12.32 pm.

Yours sincerely,

Withers LLP ]

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12.36 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will let the House have the most up-to-date information on the recent massive earthquake in Haiti.

The House is aware that Her Majesty's Government do not have the historic links with Haiti that they have with the rest of the British-speaking Caribbean; none the less, the entire Caribbean will be looking to the Government's response to this awful tragedy. Haiti has had a turbulent recent history. It has very poor infrastructure and it will be reliant on international help-

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to develop her thoughts, but at this point we will hear from the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by this question to update the House on the present situation. A series of major earthquakes struck Haiti last night in the area around the capital, Port-au-Prince. The strongest of these was reported at 7.2 on the Richter scale. Up to 13 aftershocks have since taken place. Information on the scale of damage and the number of people killed or injured is slowly emerging. Our initial estimates suggest that some 6 million people live in the affected area, and 1 million people in the worst affected area. Early press reports and limited information from the United States Government and the United Nations describe numerous collapsed buildings, including a hospital, many houses and the presidential palace. By any measure this is a terrible tragedy.

My Department has a four-person field assessment team en route to Port-au-Prince in order to determine the priorities for urgent assistance. We have already mobilised a UK fire and rescue service search and rescue team of 64 people with dogs and heavy rescue equipment. The team and their 10 tonnes of equipment are at present assembling at Gatwick airport and are ready to deploy as soon as the airport reopens following heavy snow. We are urgently looking at all options to ensure that the search and rescue team can deploy as quickly as possible, including the possibility of an RAF flight. I have been informed that the United States currently has two search and rescue teams mobilising and ready to depart from Miami. The Iceland search and rescue team is also mobilising. However, a further complication facing all teams is that Port-au-Prince airport is believed to be unusable. We are urgently assessing alternatives.

Haiti is, of course, one of the poorest countries in the world. The need in the aftermath of this tragedy is likely to be very great. The United Kingdom stands ready, as part of the international community, to provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of this devastating earthquake.

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