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"Too often these international meetings fail to live up to the hype and promises made",
but instead of strengthening the resolve of G8 leaders to deliver the promised action, he has allowed them to renege on their promises. Does that not reflect badly on
his international leadership, for which the very poorest will pay a heavy price? Can the Prime Minister tell us how hard he tried to get the other world leaders to stick to, and deliver, the Gleneagles promises? He apparently told journalists that as
"the new kid on the block",
he was focusing on a different aid target, namely the UN's 2015 millennium development goals. Will the Prime Minister attend the key UN summit on the millennium development goals this September in New York? If he is not planning to do so, could he reconsider his decision in order to put the G8's and the world's efforts towards achieving the millennium development goals back on track?
We are preparing for the Kabul summit by having repeated conversations and meetings with President Karzai and others. I have met him twice since becoming Prime Minister, once here in the UK and once in Afghanistan, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend that important meeting.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked me to clarify the perfectly obvious statement that British troops should not be in Afghanistan in five years' time. Let me put it to her the other way around. It was a Labour Government who took us into Helmand province in 2005. Is she really saying that 10 years later we should still be there? We want to get the job done, train up the Afghan army and police and bring our troops back home. She would be better advised to seek cross-party agreement on that than to take the position that she has chosen.
The right hon. and learned Lady then made some remarks about global poverty. Of course I deplore the fact that some G8 members have not stuck to the promises that they made at Gleneagles in 2005, but the slippage that she was trying to blame on the new Government took place between 2005 and 2010. The person to whom she wanted me to pay tribute-I would be delighted if he could be bothered to turn up to the House-was either Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister during that time.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked me to attend the UN summit on the millennium development goals in September in New York. I was intending to do so, but for reasons of paternal health-we have been talking about maternal health-I hope that I will be otherwise engaged in the UK, as we are having a baby. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be at the summit and doing a very good job.
The right hon. and learned Lady's whole premise on which she based her argument about the G20, the need to tackle deficits and get growth is completely wrong. The whole point about the G20 is that if you combine fiscal consolidation in the countries that need it with expansion and dealing with the imbalances from emerging economies, you can maximise world growth. That is what it is about. She says that there is no case for going faster in those countries with excessive deficits-on the IMF figures we have the biggest deficit of all-but the Labour party is now completely isolated on this issue. The G20's view is that
"it is clear that consolidation will need to begin in advanced economies in 2011, and earlier for countries experiencing significant fiscal challenges at present"-
"I think they've got the right balance, the right objectives and I think they're demonstrating that again you have to act so that people can see you're committed to follow through".
So Labour is now isolated from the Americans. What about the Europeans? José Manuel Barroso, the President of the Commission, said in Toronto that there is no more room for deficit spending. So Labour is now isolated from the Europeans.
"In this regard, credible and coherent fiscal plans should be clearly communicated as soon as possible. There is a pressing need...for fiscal consolidation in G-20 advanced economies".
"weigh on the recovery and raise market pressure in an environment of elevated uncertainty about sovereign debt risks."
"we have been very impressed with the leadership that David Cameron has shown thus far. He has, I think, taken a series of steps on some very tough issues and...is prepared to make...decisions on behalf of...his country."
Mr Speaker: Order. Many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so brevity is required, a legendary example of which will, I know, now be provided by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell).
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Is part of President Obama's message to the leading industrial countries of continental Europe not to move too rapidly or too severely in cutting back on public expenditure or the money supply lest they precipitate a slump, as occurred in the case of Credit Anstaldt, as a result of applying similar policies, led by Germany?
The Prime Minister:
The message is clear: countries that face big fiscal challenges have to address those challenges. Let me put it the other way around: for countries like us, with an 11% budget deficit, further fiscal action-or, indeed, no action-could lead to a serious problem with our economy. Where I agree with my hon. Friend is that when we tighten fiscal policy, as we should, that should be accompanied by a loose monetary policy. That is why I made the remarks that I did about the importance of not bringing in the banking rules too quickly, and why the Bank of England's
positive response to the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced is so encouraging. However, for Britain, the right measure, as the G20, the EU and the OECD say, is to deal with our deficit. If we do not, we could be in real danger.
In his discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister, did they talk about the consequences for ordinary men and women of too rapid a deficit reduction and, in particular, the reduction in Canada in the late 1990s, when the environmental services budget in Ontario was cut by $200 million and the town of Walkerton experienced the most enormous impact, with disease and, regrettably, death from E. coli? Does the Prime Minister agree that it is not grandiose announcements but the consequences for people in their lives with which we need to be concerned?
The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and his probably justified rebuke, which was well put. However, at the risk of quoting another Prime Minister, Stephen Harper did say that the UK Budget
"highlighted the very fiscal consolidation that we're trying to steer the G20 towards,"
so there was strong support from the Canadians for what we are doing here. As we do the difficult job of dealing with the record deficit that we inherited, we of course have to do everything that we can to protect the poorest and ensure that we stimulate regional growth, a subject that we will be talking about tomorrow. However, I keep returning to this point: not acting would be more serious for the UK economy and would lead to greater hardship for people.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): By what criteria will it be judged that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable to allow us to withdraw our troops, and how long will it be before we are talking to the Taliban, as suggested over the weekend by General Sir David Richards?
The Prime Minister: Let me try to answer both those questions briefly. The way to judge progress in Afghanistan is in terms of the basic level of security, stability and governance. So in Helmand, for instance, as we see districts that are under good provincial governors, with lead Afghan control over security, that is the time when we can judge that the job is getting done, and there is some prospect of some of that happening this year. As for talking to Taliban, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts it, a process of reconciliation and reintegration is taking place, where Taliban who are prepared to stop fighting and accept the basic tenets of the Afghan constitution can be reintegrated back into society. That should happen. That political track, which runs alongside the training of the Afghan army and the military surge, is vital, and we need to push further and faster on it.
Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab):
May I push the Prime Minister slightly harder on the issue of Afghanistan and talking to the Taliban? It is
true, as he says, that those who want to lay down their arms can be welcomed back, but there may be many who are not, but who will nevertheless be required to do so, in the event of a political situation being arrived at, which all of us in this House know is the only eventual outcome for Afghanistan. There is a limited amount that the Prime Minister can say, but it would be good if he could reassure the House that, come the right moment and in the right way, the British Government will indicate their willingness to talk?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put his question. This is one of those things that it is better to get on and deal with, rather than endlessly theorising about it. There is a huge difference between that part of the insurgency that is linked to al-Qaeda and is extremist in its ideology, and what has become in some parts of Afghanistan an insurgency based on the way in which particular tribes have been dealt with or on particular local issues. There is a difference between the two, and we need to bear that in mind in this important political track that we have embarked on.
Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to say that none of us wants to stay in Afghanistan a moment longer than is necessary, but does he agree that we have to get our priorities right between leaving and succeeding? If our priority is to leave, that will make it harder to succeed, whereas if our priority is to succeed, that will make it easier to leave.
The Prime Minister: I very much agree with my right hon. Friend on that. Transitioning provinces and districts to Afghan control should be done on the basis of the facts on the ground and the capacity that they have to do that, rather than on the basis of a timetable. Having said that, I do not see anything wrong with saying, "This is a task that has to take place over the coming years, but we should not be there, for instance, for five years." That is a perfectly fair point to make- [ Interruption. ] I can hear chuntering from the Opposition. The last Government set quite a lot of interim short-term targets, and I think that is where the problems have come from.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement. I associate the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with the condolences that he expressed at the beginning of his statement. President Obama has set a timetable for beginning the draw-down of US troops from Afghanistan, as have the Canadian hosts of the G20. If that is right for the United States and for Canada, why is it wrong for the UK?
The Prime Minister:
There is a difference between what Canada has decided and what President Obama is undertaking. Canada has set a firm deadline for withdrawing all its troops from combat and other operations, and that date is firmly set in stone. President Obama has spoke about a review towards the end of this year and, from July 2011, he hopes to be drawing down the surge in troops that has taken place this year. That is very different from what the Canadians are discussing. We are part of that US surge. We surged our
troop numbers, as the US did-albeit by less, but we still have around 10,000 in Helmand. We, too, should be looking at progress at the end of the year, and at that July 2011 date. However, I would rather give the House and the people of this country the certain knowledge that we are not going to be there in five years' time in the role that we are now. Between now and then, however, let us try to deliver on the ground as best we can, and train up the Afghan national army and the police in order to deliver that security and bring our troops home. And let us do it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) suggested, on the basis of the facts on the ground.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I know that the Prime Minister wants the existing strategy to be given more time to succeed, but will he accept that, if it shows little sign of progress in the next few months, or even the next year or so, there should be an alternative to recommending total withdrawal? Total withdrawal would take us back to square one, and the existing strategy would mean our continuing to take excessive casualties. There has to be, and there could be, a middle way, and I hope that he will consider that if he sees that the present strategy is not moving in the direction that he would like to see.
The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend is working hard on the middle way option, and that he is going to do further work on it. Of course I shall look carefully at what he produces. I would say to him that the surge in troop numbers has made a difference on the ground. In the parts of Afghanistan where previously it was impossible to step outside a military base, it is now possible to walk around the towns and visit the markets. I went to a training college, the last time I was in Helmand. The previous time, I went to a wheat seed distribution centre. Both times, I was able to have some freedom of movement. So there is some progress, and I think that this is the right strategy. We should use all that we have, this year, to give it every chance of success.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The Prime Minister prayed in aid the International Monetary Fund earlier, but he did not quote the IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has warned that fiscal retrenchment wrongly done would cost 60 million jobs globally. How many of those 60 million jobs will be lost among the world's poor, and how many will be lost among the poor of this country?
The Prime Minister: I discussed that with the IMF over the weekend. Dominique Strauss-Kahn's own interventions in the debate at the G20 were very strongly in favour of fiscal consolidation, particularly for the countries-such as Britain-with the largest budget deficits. I looked around that table at the G20. According to the IMF's figures, our budget deficit, at over 11 per cent., is the biggest. The answer to the question "Do they mean us when they are talking about excessive deficits?" is "Yes, they do."
The key point made by Dominique Strauss-Kahn and others is that this is a package. If we are to maximise world growth, which will bring more jobs and livelihoods, we need a combination of fiscal consolidation in the countries that require it and measures to deal both with the imbalances in the developing world and
with the structural problems in the developed economies such as Germany's. That is what needs to be done. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is recommending exactly the sort of action that we are taking here in this country.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): In the context of international development, the publication of the accountability report is very welcome, as is the specific commitment on maternal and child health. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that a commitment by the international community to a robust and specific process will be necessary in New York in September if we are to have any hope of achieving the millennium development goals by 2015?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need a process of continual checking up on the progress being made towards the MDGs. Now, in 2010, we are two thirds of the way towards the final point, and we should be doing better. We chose maternal and child health at the G8 because those are two of the goals that we are furthest from meeting.
I, too, welcome the document to which my hon. Friend has referred, and I encourage my colleagues to read it. While it is not perfect, it sets out pretty clearly on pages 15, 16 and 17 what countries promised to do and what they have done. That is progress. We have all sat here and heard reports of the great things achieved at G8 summits, but this document holds countries' feet to the fire and asks, "Did you do what you promised to do? If you did not, you must think again."
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): The Prime Minister is right to draw attention to the likelihood of deaths in pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa, but does he not think that the summit was a little bit complacent about the immediate and very serious problem of food shortages throughout that area, and the consequent large migration flows as people desperately seek somewhere to live and something to eat? Is there not a real sense of urgency when one in six of the world's population are suffering from food shortages, the largest number in history?
The Prime Minister: I would not say that the summit was complacent. It was my first G8 summit, and I was struck by the fact that about half the sessions were opened up to visiting leaders from the African Union, Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere in Africa, so that they could keep reminding the richest countries in the world of what they had promised to do. The G8 cannot substitute for the work of the United Nations and other food programmes-it is not an emergency organisation-but I do not think that it is complacent about these challenges. At least, for the first time, it is checking up on itself a bit more, and that can only be a good thing.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Prime Minister Harper has reiterated his plans to start withdrawing Canadian troops from Afghanistan next year. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with Prime Minister Harper about retaining Canadian troops who are in non-combat roles, such as the medical teams and their air troop transport helicopter teams?
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