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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the whole House will agree that we must ensure that women are fully part of the new political settlement in Afghanistan because of the particular suffering they have endured for so long in that country. There are reconstruction programmes, which we support and are helping to fund, that ensure that women and girls will benefit from the new political and civil society in Afghanistan. For instance, at the moment, out of the 1,600 people in the Afghan Loya Jirgah, 200 are women. It is a first step, but it is an enormous improvement on zero. We recognise the problems and concerns of NGOs and others about reports that women and girls are being attacked, that girls' schools are sometimes under attack, and that there is a lack of healthcare facilities for women and
Baroness Northover: My Lords, given that Afghan clerics have called for a holy war against those who attack Muslim lands, are British aid workers now even less safe in Afghanistan? Does the Minister agree that the Afghan experience generally shows that reconstruction must be a long-term commitment, something we should remember for post-war Iraq?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness's final point. We have said continually that we are in for the long haul. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said recently that we are committed to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. The security of aid workers is of great concern to the Governmentthe DfID, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. Together with the NGOs, we are working all the time to improve security. However, we also try to ensure that NGOs are neutral from the security forces.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, returning to the Question on the Order Paper, and having listened with great attention and respectand some patienceto everything the Minister said, how are we to ensure the security of humanitarian aid workers anywhere without the intervention of our Armed Forces, who have quite a few jobs on their hands at the moment?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as I said earlier, we try to secure the safety of NGOs. It is first for the NGOs themselves to feel as safe as possible when operating in a certain locality. Beyond that, in Afghanistan we ensure their safety through the security forces of ISAF and the new provincial reconstruction teams.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we already publish such a list. While procurement issues are a matter for the individual department concerned, departments contribute to a list of signed projects compiled by the Office of Government Commerce, which is publicly available on the Office of Government Commerce website. In addition, a full record of future payments under PFI contracts is published in the Red Book. The
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. When I think of the £100 billion involved, would it not be better, and does not the Minister agree that it would be in the public interest, to have a comprehensive list available, in a timely manner, in a prominent place, and in a format that is easily accessible?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have already said that such a list is available. As for the entirely bogus figure of £100 billion, which the noble Baroness and the Opposition keep on reviving, tell us what is in it.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, familiar as he is with Section 6 of the Companies Act 1985, the Minister will know that that is the section which places an obligation on companies to obtain, before they publish their accounts, the approval of an independent auditor to the effect that the accounts give a true and fair view of the affairs of the company. Therefore, is it not a source of concern that when the Chancellor rises to give his Budget statement next week, he will not have obtained the approval of the Government's auditor for the figures that he will publish that day? In fact, is not the opposite the case? Has not the Government's auditor indicated his disapproval of the Government's method of presenting precisely these PFI and PPP liabilities to which my noble friend Lady Wilcox refers because they do not give a true and fair view of the Government's true liabilities?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are two points here. The first is the quite extraordinary suggestion that the Chancellor, in between completing his Budget calculations and making his Budget speech, should go to the National Audit Office for approval of all his figures. I think that Conservative ChancellorsI am sorry that there are no former Conservative Chancellors presentwould raise at least one eyebrow at that suggestion.
The second suggestion is that the National Audit Office has indicated its disapproval of the way in which the PFI figures are presented. That is certainly not the case. If the noble Lord is referring to the issue of on-balance sheet or off-balance sheet, that is not a matter for government decisionit is between the National
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, can we turn now to the real effect of the PFI on real people in the real world? Has the Minister seen the account today in The Times and other newspapers that WS Atkins, the troubled support services group, is pulling out of a contract to run Southwark schools two years into a five-year contract? WS Atkins says:
WS Atkins has seven PPP and PFI contracts in education, and it is about to take a big bite out of the Tube PPP through the Metronet consortium. When will the Government wake up to the risks of handing failing public services over to failing private sector contractors?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I cannot really believe that the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, is suggesting that somehow the Government, presumably through direct labour organisations, should carry out all construction and maintenance work in the public sector. The alternative is that private firms should do it. The noble Lord is now suggesting that those private firms should never be at any risk of financial failure. That cannot be the caseof course there are risks. The shareholders of WS Atkins take those risks. That is the point of private finance initiativesthat is the point of risk transfer.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not my figure. It is a figure dreamed up by the Opposition, and they have never succeeded in explaining it. I do not know what it comprises; I cannot believe in it until I see the evidence.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, can the Minister really derogate the Government's responsibility in the matter of the PFI and the PPP? Has not the National Audit Office expressed extreme concern about the off-balance sheet financing of Network Rail and has it not had a dispute with the national statistician about this? How can the Government sit back and say that it is nothing to do with them when it is a government-owned vehicle executing government policy?
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