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"the tax system-my wife didn't put up with me because I was getting £150 by way of tax allowance. This is social engineering for God's sake and when I joined the party we weren't in favour of it."
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The power company E.ON has just announced that it will close its call centre in Rayleigh with the proposed loss of more than 600 jobs. Given that sad news, can the Prime Minister personally assure me that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Jobcentre Plus network will do absolutely everything that they can to assist my constituents and their families, and to help them to find alternative employment if that closure goes ahead?
The Prime Minister: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the rapid response unit of the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus will be available to help his constituents if they are looking for jobs. Some 300,000 people are leaving the unemployment register every month, partly as a result of the action that Jobcentre Plus is able to take. We will be able to give his constituents advice, help and careers assistance, as well as, in some cases, work experience for young people looking for jobs in the future. We will do everything we can. I have to say to him, however, and I hope that he will note it, that all these measures are opposed by the Leader of the Opposition.
Q5.  Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent research done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on how to tackle child poverty and help families? Does he share its analysis that the best way to tackle child poverty is through child tax credits and not through the policies advocated by the official Opposition?
The Prime Minister: We have had the Conservative document on the family published today and it does not mention that they wish to take child tax credits away from large numbers of people. It does not mention that they want to take the child trust fund away from large numbers of people. As for honest politics, if you publish a document and you do not tell people what your policy really is- [ Interruption. ] Last week, I said that the Conservatives should give up the posters and concentrate on policy. Now that I have seen their policy, I have to say that they are just as well with their posters.
Q6.  Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con):
May I ask the Prime Minister to look into the excessive delays within the Home Office in resolving the
outstanding issues of funding for unaccompanied child asylum seekers in the London borough of Hillingdon, with all the financial consequences and possible implications for social cohesion?
The Prime Minister: I will undertake to look into the matter. The hon. Gentleman is talking about an issue that is obviously very serious for those affected and their families, so I will look into it carefully.
Mr. Allen: Although there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system, the alternative vote would mean that every Member of Parliament returned would have the support of at least 50 per cent. of the local electorate. Unlike any proportional representation system, it would also maintain, and indeed strengthen, the constituency link that is so vital for all Members of Parliament. Will the Prime Minister therefore consider whether he can trust Members of the House and, ultimately, members of the public to have a serious discussion on electoral systems and consider what system they should use to send people here?
The Prime Minister: Ultimately, this must be decided by members of the public in a referendum. The advantage of the alternative vote system is that it retains the constituency link, which I believe is important not just to Members of the House, but to the whole population. Given the issues that have arisen about trust in politics, there is a case to be made for every Member coming here to have the support of more than 50 per cent. of the electorate, as a result of the alternative vote system. I believe that there is a case for a referendum on this issue, and that those who wish for reform will wish for a referendum on that basis.
Q8.  Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The 200-year-old dam in my constituency, which is an earthworks dam containing the Chasewater reservoir, has started to leak. A recent engineers report stated that if it collapses, scores of lives will be lost and there will be a lasting effect on the west midlands. The small district of Lichfield does not have the funds to make the urgent repairs. Will the Prime Minister please use his best endeavours to ensure that the financial burden is spread over a much broader region?
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab):
On Friday, MPs and councillors of all parties and local military historians will gather to take forward plans to provide a
permanent memorial to Trooper Potts, Reading's only recipient of the Victoria cross, which he won at Gallipoli in 1915 in an act of outstanding courage. Will the Prime Minister, to whom I have written on this subject, offer a message of support for our endeavours to mark for ever the gallantry of this truly local hero?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that a permanent memorial would be a great way of expressing not only our debt to the people whom he has mentioned, but our continuing debt to all those who have served our country, including those who have been honoured for doing so with bravery and having demonstrated the greatest of courage. I hope that his proposal can move forward; we will do everything that we can to help it.
The Prime Minister: We have introduced a points system for immigration, which I believe is starting to work. The hon. Gentleman will see, from announcements coming soon, that the number of people whom we need to come to this country, to meet the demand for the skills, is being substantially reduced as a result of the skills and people being trained here. The points system is working: unskilled workers whom the country does not need and who cannot make a contribution to the economy are not allowed into the country.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to update the House on the measures that we are taking to enhance our security and our protection against terrorism. Yesterday, at a regular meeting of our National Security Committee, Ministers and I received the latest intelligence and information from the chiefs of our security and intelligence agencies, the head of the UK Border Agency, the country's senior counter-terrorism officials and police officers, and the Chief of the Defence Staff. Yesterday I also spoke to President Obama about our security measures.
The failed attack over Detroit on Christmas day signalled the first operation mounted outside Arabia by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based organisation with close links to the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan. We know that a number of terrorist cells are actively trying to attack Britain and other countries. Earlier this month, the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary made statements to Parliament setting out the urgent steps that we are taking to enhance aviation security, including new regulations for transit passengers. Today, following the advice that the Government have received, I want to announce further measures to strengthen the protection of our borders, maximise aviation security, and enhance intelligence co-ordination at home and abroad.
Earlier today I paid tribute to those members of our armed forces who most recently gave their lives in the service of the security of our country in Afghanistan. The action that we are taking to counter terrorism at its source in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and elsewhere is a central part of our wider counter-terrorist strategy. All our actions, which we will update regularly, are founded on what is and must be the first and most important duty of Government: the protection and security of the British people.
Although the UK's borders are already among the strongest in the world, I now want to set out how we will further strengthen our protection against would-be terrorists: first, by extending our Home Office watch list; and secondly, in partnership with security agencies abroad, by improving the sharing of information on individuals of concern. I can announce that, as well as extending our watch list, we intend for the first time to use it as the basis for two new lists: first, a no-fly list; and secondly, a larger list of those who should be subject to special measures, including enhanced screening prior to boarding flights bound for the UK. We will use the new technology that we have introduced and our partnerships with police and agencies in other countries to stop those who pose the greatest risk from travelling to our country. But over the coming months we will go further in taking action against people before they even board a plane to the UK.
Our e-Borders scheme is a vital component of our strategy to strengthen and modernise the UK's border controls. It has already achieved significant success, enabling nearly 5,000 arrests for crimes that include murder, rape and assault. As a result of the £1.2 billion investment that we are making, by the end of this year we will be able to check all passengers travelling from other countries to all major airports and ports in the
UK, whether they are in transit or the UK is their final destination, by checking against the watch list 24 hours prior to travel and then taking appropriate action. The e-Borders system will give us a better picture than ever of people coming in and out of our country. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is meeting today with European counterparts to push for swift agreement at the European Union level on the ability to collect and process data on passenger records, including on travel within the EU, and to enforce the European Commission's recent approval of the transmission of advanced passenger information to our e-Borders system by carriers based in other member states.
As the Detroit bomber highlighted, we also need-and we are sponsoring-research on the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying potential explosives anywhere on the body. As President Obama and I discussed yesterday, greater security in our airports, with the new body scanners introduced from next week, an increase in explosive trace testing and the use of dogs, must be matched by demanding greater guarantees about security in those international airports from which there are flights into our country. I can today inform the House that we have agreed with Yemenia Airways, pending enhanced security, that it suspends its direct flights to the UK from Yemen with immediate effect. We are working closely with the Yemeni Government to agree what security measures need to be put in place before flights are resumed. Aviation security officials are currently in Yemen looking at this. I hope that flights can be resumed soon, but the security of our citizens must be our priority.
We will also work with our partners in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the EU and the G8 to promote enhancements to the international aviation security regime, including stronger security arrangements in airports and greater sharing of information. The Home Secretary will be discussing initial proposals with European and American counterparts this week. We want to offer increased assistance to countries whose weaknesses in aviation security may present a wider threat to the international community, including to the UK.
It is because we fully recognise the global nature of the terrorist threat we face today that our response must also be truly global. Plots against the UK and our interests originate in various parts of the globe. Some of the intelligence that we need in order to protect our people against attacks will be here in Britain; some will be held by our international partners and passed to us, just as we help them with our information about the threats they face; and some information will come from the most unstable parts of the world. So, in tackling these threats to life and to our way of life, our security services-and I pay tribute to all of them-need to be able seamlessly to track and disrupt terrorist activity and movements, whether within the UK or beyond. This requires ever-closer working between our agencies themselves, and with our international partners.
I can announce that, as part of the work that I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to lead on intelligence co-ordination, our three intelligence agencies have already begun to set up joint investigating and targeting teams to address potential threats upstream, long before the individuals concerned might reach our shores, ensuring that at all times we continue to deliver improvements in
the way we collect, share and use intelligence, and building on previous reforms including the joint terrorism analysis centre that we set up in 2003, the office for security and counter-terrorism and the national security secretariat in 2007.
In addition to all those measures to protect British lives at home and in the air, we are tackling the problem of global international terrorism at its source. I have said before that Yemen is both an incubator and a potential safe haven for terrorism, and that, along with Somalia, it is the most significant after the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. We and our allies are still clear that the crucible of terrorism on the Afghan-Pakistan border remains the No. 1 security threat to the west. At the same time, however, we must recognise that al-Qaeda's affiliates and allies, pushed out of Afghanistan and increasingly under pressure in Pakistan, are seeking to exploit other areas with weak governance, such as parts of Yemen and Somalia.
In Yemen, we have been at the forefront of the international effort against terrorism for some time. We have been assisting the Government of Yemen through intelligence support and through support for its coastguard and for the training of counter-terror personnel. We are also helping to tackle some of the root causes of terrorism by supporting political, economic and social reform. By next year, our commitments to Yemen will total some £100 million, making the UK one of its leading donors. We are also increasing our capacity-building in Somalia, working with the transitional Government and the African Union.
As with all aspects of the fight against terrorism, this new threat can be met only through enhanced co-operation, so we will now work more closely with allies in the region to pool efforts, resources and expertise. Next week, here in London, alongside our conference on Afghanistan, we will be hosting a special meeting to strengthen international support for Yemen in its efforts against al-Qaeda. We will help the Government of Yemen to advance their internal reforms, and we will increase capacity-building and development assistance in a way that directly addresses poverty and grievances that could fuel insecurity and extremism.
Since 2001, we have reformed domestic defences against the terrorist threat, trebled our domestic security budget, doubled the staff in our security services and reformed our security structures to bring greater co-ordination across government. We have responded to the changing nature of the threat by bringing in new powers and new terrorism-related offences. Nearly 230 people have been convicted of terrorist or terrorist-related offences since 2001. Today's announcements demonstrate that we will continue to be vigilant, adapting our response to changing terrorist techniques. I commend this statement to the House.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. There is much in it that we welcome. We particularly welcome the emphasis on the national security approach-something that we have consistently called for over the past four years. I want to ask the Prime Minister about four areas in particular: the radicalisation of young British Muslims; how to increase security at our borders; international co-operation; and co-ordination within our own Government.
First, on radicalisation, is not the key point about the Detroit bomber that he did not go to Yemen by accident and happen to get radicalised there? He was actually radicalised first in the United Kingdom and went to Yemen as a result. Does not that show that more needs to be done to tackle radicalisation right here in the UK? We welcome the belated decision to ban Islam4UK, having repeatedly called for it. Will the Prime Minister now go ahead and ban Hizb ut-Tahrir? The fact is that too many of our university campuses have tolerated organisations that have acted as incubators of terrorism. Is not one of the lessons of the last few years that we should act not only against the organisations that threaten violence, but against those that threaten our way of life as well? Is it not time for a proper review of the preventing violent extremism strategy?
Secondly, there is the question of the security of our borders. We welcome many of the things that the Prime Minister said, particularly on the issue of a no-fly list. The subject of the list was raised by our security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, and we very much welcome its introduction. The introduction of body scanners is also welcome, but will the Prime Minister say whether he believes that they would have prevented this particular individual from boarding the aircraft in Amsterdam?
As for the question of how we decide to search people at airports, obviously crude ethnic profiling is neither right nor effective, but that surely does not mean that we should not be thinking about how best to target our approach. I understand that the Detroit bomber appears to have displayed a number of high-risk factors: paying for the tickets in cash, carrying only hand luggage, and having previously been denied a United Kingdom visa. Does the Prime Minister agree that those factors should have set the alarm bells ringing? Can he tell us what is being done, in the light of this episode, to enhance the training of security staff at airports to identify those clear risk factors? Above all, when it comes to our borders, is it not time for a proper border police force rather than the pale imitation that we have had so far?
Thirdly, international co-operation is obviously exceptionally important. Clearly we need to work with the authorities in Yemen to address the growing threat emanating from that country. We welcome such co-operation, but is it not important that these matters are handled properly? We were initially given the high-profile announcement of a big conference on Yemen next week, which now turns out to be a two-hour meeting in the margins of the summit on Afghanistan. Can the Prime Minister explain how that came about?
"there was security information about this individual's activities, and that was the information that was shared with the US authorities."
As we know, there followed a dispute about whether information was passed or not. Can the Prime Minister now promise that he will stick to the fundamental principle that we do not comment on intelligence matters?
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