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24 Mar 2010 : Column 235

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who has always been an assiduous and hard-working Member of Parliament.

Does the Secretary of State recall that, alongside discussions with the Executive about the national security protocols, there was consideration of finance and other related matters, including the transfer of four military sites? Will he use his influence to ensure that the promise given by the Prime Minister is not broken by the Ministry of Defence, which is trying to hold on to elements of those sites?

Mr. Woodward: The right hon. Gentleman knows that the bases are being transferred to the Executive as part of the generous devolution package that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I agreed at Hillsborough castle. There are, of course, outstanding points of detail in relation to those bases, but I am confident that they will be solved to everyone's satisfaction. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I appeal to the House to settle down. We are discussing extremely important matters and I think that the people of Northern Ireland deserve a bit better.

Fuel Smuggling

6. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on steps to tackle fuel smuggling in Northern Ireland. [322978]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): Tackling fuel crime is a key Government priority. Law enforcement agencies in the Organised Crime Task Force are working to disrupt fuel fraudsters, bring them to court and confiscate their criminal assets.

Mr. Turner: Will the Minister tell the House who is responsible for investigating smuggling, which involves a loss to the Exchequer of £200 million a year? Is it London or Belfast?

Paul Goggins: The Organised Crime Task Force in Northern Ireland is an excellent initiative that brings all law enforcement agencies together-Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It is increasingly important that they work with their counterparts from the Republic of Ireland-the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Revenue Commissioners-because it is by working together that we can best bring to justice the people who perpetrate these dreadful crimes.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to stop the smuggling would be to reduce the price of fuel in the UK and not introduce the 3p levy?

Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend makes a late bid with regard to the business that will come later. On reducing opportunities for fuel smuggling, it is important that the price of fuel is now virtually the same in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. That reduces the incentive for fuel smuggling, but it encourages fraudsters to consider other kinds of fuel fraud, especially fuel laundering, which is why the Organised Crime Task Force must continue to pursue the issue with great vigour.

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7. David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): When he expects to receive the final report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. [322979]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I placed in the Library of the House on 3 March the most recent report from the IICD, which recorded full and final acts of decommissioning. I expect a final report, including a report on armaments, to be published later in the year.

David Simpson: Can the Secretary of State confirm that within the final report, there will be a full inventory of the weapons that were decommissioned, as his predecessor assured us would happen?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman will know that the IICD was set up by both the British Government and the Irish Government. The arrangements to bring to an end decommissioning in the Republic of Ireland have now been concluded. We are in discussions with the Irish Government and with the IICD about the scope of the IICD's final report, which will contain a report on armaments.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Secretary of State rightly referred to the fact that both the British and Irish Governments set up the IICD. They did so arising out of agreements and negotiations in the talks leading to the Good Friday agreement. Does he recognise that when that commission was being set up and whenever decommissioning was being pursued, the main Unionist party insisted that decommissioning was not intended to happen as part of the agreement and was a fiction? Will he therefore acknowledge that the progress that has been made proves that those of us who committed to the agreement and to decommissioning were right and were honest?

Mr. Woodward: In the course of the peace process, political parties in Northern Ireland have taken positions which in the end will, I hope, reflect a unanimous position that all the work that has been done to achieve peace and stability in Northern Ireland has succeeded. I hope that all political parties-including, as I am sure it does, the Democratic Unionist party-support the work of the IICD.

Per Capita Expenditure

8. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on trends in per capita expenditure in Northern Ireland on matters for which he is responsible. [322980]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had no recent discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on these matters.

Mr. Bone: The public expenditure per head of population in Northern Ireland is now more than £10,000, and more than a quarter higher than the UK average. As
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things have got better in Northern Ireland, one would have thought that trend would go down. Does the Minister agree, or does he expect to see it at a constant level?

Paul Goggins: The expenditure for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible relates now only to policing and criminal justice matters, and they will shortly be devolved. It is true that the number of police officers per head of population in Northern Ireland is higher than it would be in the hon. Gentleman's constituency or mine, but that is perfectly understandable when one considers the troubles of the past 30-odd years and the prevailing problem and challenge from dissident republicans. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP) rose-

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must come to order. I want to hear the question from Mr. Nigel Dodds.

Mr. Dodds: Is it not right that, after more than 35 years of the most terrible terrorist campaign, the level of expenditure on security in Northern Ireland was rightly spent to defend democracy and the Union with the rest of the United Kingdom? Will the Minister give a commitment that in the event that at any point in the future some kind of civil emergency arises, the money will be available to protect and defend the ordinary people of Northern Ireland against terrorism?

Paul Goggins: Both in the current financial year and for the next financial year a considerable amount of additional money will be made available to the Chief Constable to deal with the security threat. It is very much the judgment of the Chief Constable that we listen to. We will listen to his assessment and respond accordingly.

Saville Inquiry

9. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): When he next expects the final report from the Saville inquiry to be published; and if he will make a statement. [322981]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The House will be pleased to hear that finally, after more than a decade, Lord Saville will, this afternoon, I believe, make available to my officials his final report and inquiry, so that they may begin the checking process on article 2 obligations and national security that I am obliged to carry out as Secretary of State.

Mr. Robathan: What took place on Bloody Sunday was a tragedy, whoever was to blame. It took place nearly 40 years ago. We have spent £200 million of taxpayers' money and 12 years looking at the issues, probably just to stir up old enmities and reopen old sores. Does the Secretary of State think that it is all worth doing?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman is right to record the fact that the report has cost £200 million. I disagree with him about the value of the Saville inquiry. Without the Saville inquiry, there would have been no stable peace process. Because of the inquiry, it has been possible to establish the bona fides for a peace process to succeed, and the whole House will be grateful for that success.

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Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Given that almost £200 million has been spent, with no definitive outcome yet in sight, does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time to call an end to further wasteful inquiries and deal with genuine innocent victims for the future rather than trying to remember the past?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman need take no lessons, certainly from me, in being reminded that several thousand people lost their lives in the course of the troubles. We cannot forget the past; I am sure that he shares that view. The Saville inquiry will help us to produce the truth about the events of that day. We will learn from this inquiry. However, we do need a process to enable Northern Ireland to reconcile itself with its past.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [323602] Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure that the whole House will join me in remembering the life and achievements of Serjeant Steven Campbell from 3rd Battalion the Rifles, who died in Afghanistan earlier this week. We pay tribute to his energetic, brave and dedicated service. His infectious enthusiasm and his sincere patriotism will be sorely missed. The thoughts of everybody in this House, I know, are with his family, friends and colleagues.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Mike Penning: I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to our armed forces, especially those who have lost their lives this week. Our thoughts and prayers are not only with those who have lost their lives, and their families and loved ones, but those who have been injured.

Last week the Prime Minister admitted that he had misled the Chilcot inquiry about the funding for the armed forces. When did he realise that he had misled-before or after he gave evidence?

The Prime Minister: As I said last week, when I was preparing for last week's Question Time I was shown the transcript of what I had said in the Chilcot inquiry, and I decided to make it absolutely clear, on the first occasion, to the House and then write to Sir John Chilcot. But I repeat: defence spending has risen by 12 per cent. in real terms. Every request for funding by the Ministry of Defence and the commanders has been met by the Treasury for the operations that have been conducted. I have to say that there was a 30 per cent. real-terms cut in defence expenditure under the last years of the Tories.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): May I pay my own personal tribute to all the officers we have lost and give my condolences to their families? I am sure we miss them all.

May I ask the Prime Minister why, in his view, fairness should be the hallmark of a good Government?

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The Prime Minister: I appreciate the importance that my hon. Friend and her constituents attach to the fairness measures that we have introduced: the child tax credit, which has helped 6 million families in this country; the pension credit, which is helping 2 million pensioners to escape poverty in this country; educational maintenance allowances, which are helping half a million children to go to school; and a guarantee that young people under 24 will receive help and will not be unemployed but will have training and work. These are the measures that have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor; they could never have been put forward by the shadow Chancellor.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Serjeant Steven Campbell, who died in Helmand on Monday. We are paying a high price in Afghanistan, and our troops and their families need to know that they have all our support. Our prayers and thoughts are with those who will not come home.

This is likely to be the second last Prime Minister's questions before the general election, and clearly the Chancellor's statement is the main event of the day, so this provides an opportunity to clear up a number of different issues. May I start with a simple one? It is Budget day, and there is a picket line outside the Treasury, so will the Prime Minister confirm that on this occasion he would like people to cross it and go to work?

The Prime Minister: Let me first congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and his wife on the good news about their baby. Secondly, I thank him for getting near again to asking a question about the economy. Of course everybody is going to work here, and we will continue to work for a Labour Government and for jobs.

Mr. Cameron: I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his congratulations. I have had a lot of texts and messages from many hon. Members, most of them focusing on how to find the time for these things, but I am very grateful none the less.

It was a very interesting answer from the Prime Minister. Last week he would not give any support to British Airways workers, but apparently the First Lord of the Treasury is content for his own work force to go to work.

In this spirit of clearing up a few issues, one of the things the Treasury is working on concerns the Prime Minister's disastrous decision to sell gold at rock-bottom prices, losing- [Interruption.] It lost the country £6 billion. The Treasury has now lost its four-year battle against the Information Commissioner to keep the information about that decision secret, so will the Prime Minister now confirm that those documents will be published in full, with no redactions, before the general election?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy for any document to be published on that matter, but the right hon. Gentleman must do a bit better than that if he is talking about the future. We are lapsing into these issues, so let me just remind him that we have taken people out of unemployment and into work, that we have helped thousands of small businesses and that we have been helping people avoid the loss of their homes. The
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Conservatives have nothing to say about the present and the future. It is about time he started to think about the policies that work for the future.

Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister is so relaxed about this information being published, can he tell us why he spent four years fighting it?

The Prime Minister: It is a matter for the Information Commissioner and the Treasury. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I am happy if the Information Commissioner wishes to publish documents, but is the right hon. Gentleman going to come forward with any serious policy about the future of this country? Has he got anything serious to offer this country for the future? Has he got anything to say to the unemployed of this country, or to mortgage holders or businesses? The person who will be talking about the future is the Chancellor. The shadow Chancellor has nothing to offer.

Mr. Cameron: So really that is it-the Treasury always wanted this information published, and it was only the Information Commissioner stopping it. Once again, this Prime Minister takes the whole country for fools.

Let us try another one. The Information Commissioner has also ordered the Department for Work and Pensions to release information on the Prime Minister's disastrous raid on every pension fund in the country. The Information Commissioner ruled in November that that should be published and the Department has appealed against it. Now that we hear the Government are not interested in these appeals, will the Prime Minister withdraw that appeal and make sure the information is published?

The Prime Minister: We had a debate -[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor may laugh, but he was the subject of the debate in this House on these very issues and he could not sustain his case about the dividend tax credit. We made the right decision for British industry and the right decision to protect British pensioners. It is the Conservative party that has let pensioners down and would do so in future by opposing many of the measures that we have taken. I am happy for everything in my record to be judged. Now let us start with the Leader of the Opposition-will he tell us what happened over Lord Ashcroft?

Mr. Cameron: It is a simple question. If the Prime Minister is happy for this information to be published, will he withdraw the appeal and have it published-yes or no?

The Prime Minister: We had this debate on pensions. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] Yes, we had this debate on pensions in this House of Commons. The shadow Chancellor tried to pursue the case against our policy to withdraw dividend tax credits. He could not even make a sensible argument about that at the time. We won this debate on dividend tax credits because our policy was the right policy, and it continues to be so.

Mr. Cameron: On this, the second last Prime Minister's questions, we have just had what we have had all along from this Prime Minister: no answers, endless cover-ups, not giving the information, not answering the question and dithering on all the important decisions. How much longer are we going to have to wait until we get rid of this useless bunch of Ministers? The cab meter's ticking. Come on, tell us when the election is, then.

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