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The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The Government have regular discussions about EU and other countries' trade policies, including the current World Trade Organisation negotiations. At the European Development Ministers' informal council in October we discussed aid for trade, and agreement was reached on a package of support the following month. In Hong Kong, I hosted an informal meeting of EU Development Ministers to discuss how Europe could contribute to a successful outcome to the talks.
Mr. Stuart: The year 2005 was to make poverty history, yet our EU presidency has come and gone with much noise and little achievement. What lessons have been learned, so that when we next have the EU presidency we can bring trade justice, not a continuation of selfish protectionism?
Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge the strong lead that the UK gave when we had the EU presidency, and will continue to give. The truth is that there are 25 EU member states and they have different views. However hard the presidency pushes, if people have different views, it cannot take the decision on behalf of all 25 member states. What is the lesson that we must learn and the conclusion we must draw? All of us have to work even harder now to ensure that the blockage to the negotiations is removed in the short time that we have in the first part of this year, so that we can see progress on the things that will make a difference to developing countries.
I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will be aware, as the whole House will, that today we are celebrating Robert Burns day. Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to read a speech given last week describing
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Scotland as "Third Scotland" and likening us to Bosnia, Iran, North Korea and the Gaza strip? Does he know which wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie made that speech?
The Prime Minister: I do, actually. First, may I wish my hon. Friend and all Scots well for Burns day and Burns night? Secondly, may I point out that since the Government came to power, there are about 200,000 more people in work in Scotland, unemployment is down by a third, employment is at its highest level since records began, and over half a million people have been lifted from absolute poverty in Scotland? The Scottish economy is thriving. There is investment in the public services and poverty is getting better, not worse.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I am glad that the Prime Minister is reading my speeches. That is very welcome. I want to know whether he is reading the Deputy Prime Minister's speeches. The Deputy Prime Minister said:
The Prime Minister: I, of course, want to see more good schools, which is why I am delighted to say that since this Government came to power, the number of schools where over 70 per cent. of the pupils get five good GCSEs is up from just over 80 in 1997 to over 500 today. Thanks to the investment and reform introduced by the Government, there are more good schools and more pupils going to them.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister knows that there are still 1 million children in failing schools, so the need for reform is vital. On Monday, the Prime Minister rightly ruled out inserting the 76-page admissions code into his education Bill. On trust schools, will he confirm what he said to me in our first exchange in the House? Will he state categorically that all the freedoms in the White Paperschools owning their own buildings, employing their own staff, developing their own culturewill not be watered down and will arrive in the education Bill?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I will confirm that. What is more, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman why that is important. He is absolutely right: I have been reading his speeches recently. I have read some on education as well and I am delighted to note that he now agrees with us that there should be no return to academic selection, so we are in favour of greater freedom for schools and no return to academic selection. Therefore, I look forward to his support.
The Prime Minister will have our support, but I have to say that I love these lectures on consistency from him. His first act as Prime Minister was to abolish grant-maintained schools, and his last act as Prime Minister is to bring them back again. This is someone who came into politics to soak the rich and ban
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the bomb, and ever since he has been sucking up to the rich and dropping bombs. But enough of thatback to education.
The Prime Minister told us that every time he has introduced a reform, he wished that he had gone further. So will he accept our offer of support in the Division Lobby, so that he can put the whole of his White Paper into the Bill, and will he put the Bill to the House without delay? Time is running out for the Prime Minister, so will he get on with it?
The Prime Minister: First, of course we will publish the Bill shortly and put it to the House, and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's support on it. But when he talks about consistency in politics, he should be a little wary. He may have a point about the Labour 1983 election manifesto and what we have done subsequently, but let me point out to him some of the things that he has changed his mind on within the last few weeks, not the last few months. He said of the patient's passport:
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): This House has comity with the Government and is not subordinate to them; therefore, instead of abrogating the Wilson doctrine, will the Prime Minister beef it up to take account of modern forms of communication? Failure to do so will send all the wrong signals to the Lukashenkos and Mugabes of this worldthat it is all right to go down the slippery slope of abuse. Bearing in mind that Back Benchers' stock-in-trade is dealing with whistleblowers and other people who irritate the Government of the day, I will do a deal with John Scarlett and Manningham-Buller: they can listen to my telephone conversations if I can listen to theirs.
The Prime Minister:
Obviously, that is an immensely tempting offer, and personally I have never found my hon. Friend irritating in any shape or form; I have always welcomed him as an independent thinker. I am afraid that he will have to wait until we make our announcement on the Wilson doctrine, but let me repeat what I said, I think, to the House last week. This issue arises for no other reason whatever than recommendations put to us by the interception of communications commissioner. We are considering it carefully and once we have come to a decision we will of course announce it to the House.
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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): The Prime Minister rightly said that Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, and he made Africa the focus of the British presidency of the G8. With hundreds of thousands of people dead and 2 million displaced, have we not failed the people of Darfur?
The Prime Minister: The international community is failing people in Darfur, which is why it is so important that we take the measures for which the Secretary of State for International Development and, indeed, the Government, have been pressing. Those measures have got to include not just immediate humanitarian help, but making sure that the African Union peacekeeping force comes up to its full strength. The only way that the situation in Darfur is going to improve is when there are sufficient peacekeeping forces on the ground to keep the combatants apart, when the process of dialogue and peace takes place that we have been calling for and, obviously, when the measures are in place to improve humanitarian help. So we have to do more, but we are doing more, and I should point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we, as the British Government, have been leading the efforts in this area and will continue to do so.
Sir Menzies Campbell: But as we talk about these matters, the killing, violence and rape continue. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the UK and the Security Council will press for an increase in the size of the African Union force and ensure that it has a strengthened mandate? Will they also press for a commitment that it is fully funded, equipped and supported?
The Prime Minister: We are doing precisely that. We have pressed for the AU peacekeeping force to be increased, and we fully support its proper funding. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to be fair about this matter, so I can tell him that I think that this country can be very proud of what it has done in respect of Africa over the past few years. We have trebled our aid to Africa, and we have played a major part in getting aid obligations increased all around the world. We have also played a major part in securing debt relief. There is much else to be done, especially with regard to the killer diseasesHIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and so forthbut over the past few years this country, in particular through the Department for International Development, has led the way in bringing change to Africa.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland)
(Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that for every acre of children's playgrounds, this country has 80 acres of golf courses? Will he join me in congratulating Councillor Lucy Howells, the deputy mayor of Sedgefield borough council, who has secured funds for playgrounds across the borough? Does he also agree with the all-party parliamentary group on play that adequate space for play should be incorporated in all new housing developments?
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The Prime Minister: I am delighted to add my congratulations to Councillor Lucy Howells. She is well known to me, and has done an immense amount of work for young people in our communities. It is worth emphasising that the respect action plan goes beyond tougher powers and extra community support officers. It is also specifically about the help that will be available to aid young people and to increase youth services. That is an important part of making sure that we tackle antisocial behaviour and give our young people the opportunities that they need.
Q2.  Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): British crime survey figures show that almost half of women in the UK experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Last November, victims of violence presented the Prime Minister with the "End Violence Against Women" report, which gave his Government one out of 10 on the issue. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore commit to developing an integrated strategy to ensure that he does not come bottom of the class this year?
The Prime Minister: In fairness, the Government and the police have done a great deal of work to ensure that victims of domestic violence report the offences committed against them. The hon. Lady should look at the domestic violence programmes introduced by the Government, and she will see that we have a strategy in place for the first time. That has to be implemented and driven through across the country, but it would be wrong to suggest that no progress had been made.
Q3.  Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): In Hull, more than 300 young people have volunteered as junior community wardens to work alongside the extra bobbies on the beat and the police community support officers. Will my right hon. Friend maintain his focus on the respect agenda and not do what the Opposition dothat is, come up with new gimmicks every day that do not work?
The Prime Minister: It is important to recognise, as my hon. Friend does, that the respect action plan includes the strong new powers that are necessary for communities, but she is also right that community support officers and local volunteers play a very important part. The Russell commission proposals are backed by Government funding and will make a lot of difference to youth volunteering. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that it is when local communities get the power in their own hands that a real difference can be made.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): On police force amalgamation[Interruption.] This is an important issue, affecting many communities in the country. Last week, the Prime Minister said that he would listen to local people, and that
"many different things could happen, including forces coming together for certain strategic tasks that they are better able to fulfil on a common, rather than singular, basis."[Official Report, 18 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 836.]
The Prime Minister:
We have to listen to what people are saying and, obviously, there are different views
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about police reform. One possibility is for strategic coming together on certain issues, rather than mergers, but that has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. We should listen carefully to what people are saying, but the reason why this has come forward as an issue is that the Association of Chief Police Officers said that it believed that the present configuration of forces was not satisfactory in fighting crime. As a result, we commissioned a report from the inspectorate of constabulary. That report said very strongly that fundamental reform was needed, and that is why the proposals have been brought forward. I agree that it is important that we listen carefully to what people are saying. The trouble is, as always in such situations, that not everyone is in agreement about the right way forward. The aim should be the most effective way to police local communities with the greatest amount of accountability and effectiveness. Obviously, we will listen carefully to what people say.
Mr. Cameron: No one denies the need for reform, but the Prime Minister should accept that he is striking a very different tone from the Home Secretary, who has said that smaller forces must be abolished and larger ones created. The Prime Minister says that they could survive if they share certain tasks strategically. Will he ensure that the Home Secretary thinks again and does not force through amalgamations?
The Prime Minister: It is not a question of forcing them through[Interruption.] No, it is not. It is a question of answering the point made by the inspectorate of constabulary. If I read out its report to the right hon. Gentleman, he will see why we embarked on the process. It said:
"The 43 force structure is no longer fit for purpose. In the interests of efficiency and effectiveness of policing it should change . . . We now firmly believe that some reorganisation of forces and re-configuration of protective services is inescapable."
It is obvious that the inspectorate does not think that reform is incidental to better policing, but that it is fundamental to it. As I say, we will listen carefully and there are several different directions that reform could take. It could be different in different parts of the country. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that it is no use being in favour of police reform in general if he opposes it all in particular.
Mr. Cameron: But is not there a much more important reform agenda that will address the fact that only one in four crimes is detected, police officers spend less than a fifth of their time on the streets and it takes three and a half hours for every arrest to be processed? Is not the real police reform agenda about changing working practices, cutting paperwork and making them properly accountable to local people?
The Prime Minister:
That is precisely what we are doing[Interruption.] Yes, it is. For example, the summary powers and fixed penalty notices are a massive saving on bureaucracy, as chiefs of police often point out. The right hon. Gentleman talks about police reform, but I think that the most important thing is that the police get the right, visible and uniformed presence out on the street. That is why it is important not merely that we have record numbers of police officers, but that
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we supplement them with community support officers and that all of them are given the powers they need in local communities. It is all very well to talk, as the right hon. Gentleman does, about incompetent or lazy police officers, but I do not think that that is the problem with the police. The problem is that they need the powers that we have agreed to give themI hope that he will support us on thatand they also need to be backed up by the right support staff, and that must include community support officers. If he were able to support that agendaas well as, incidentally, not only the antisocial behaviour agenda but the organised crime proposals that will be made soonwe would have a far better opportunity to achieve effective policing in our communities.
Q4.  Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): What estimate has my right hon. Friend made of the carbon emission savings arising from the introduction of the climate change levy? Does he favour the introduction of further fiscal measures to save carbon emissions and, if so, would he welcome a degree of consensus on their introduction?
The Prime Minister: I would welcome a degree of consensus, yes, but unfortunately the Conservatives have made it clear yet again that they are opposed to the climate change levy. I think that that is their position[Interruption.] No, that was only just a few days ago and I would say that it is at least valid for this week. My hon. Friend is right, and the climate change levy has made a real difference in the reduction in CO 2 emissions by several million tonnes. Therefore, it is extremely important that we keep it. I am also pleased to note that the UK was ranked fifth best in the world in the independent environment league table. That is extremely good news and it shows that this country has been at the forefront on the issue of climate change and will continue to be so.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Does the Prime Minister accept that there will not be much of a Burns night celebration for the 720 workers who have been made redundant as a result of the closure of Lexmark in the small community of Rosyth? Is he really unaware that 7,000 industrial manufacturing jobs have been lost in Fifeand 100,000 in Scotlandsince he took office? What level of industrial disaster is required to shake this Prime Minister and his Chancellor out of their totally unjustified complacency on the competitive position of manufacturing in Scotland?
The Prime Minister:
I am not the slightest bit complacent about that. Of course, we deeply sympathise with the people who have recently lost their jobs. The only way to support those people is to do what we will do: ensure that we give them every help with training and other jobs and put in place the same type of package of assistance that we have implemented in many situations when jobs have been losteither in the manufacturing or service sectorin the whole of the UK in the past few years. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that it is no use claiming sympathy with those people unless we are actually prepared to act to help them. He is effectively saying that he could somehow prevent manufacturing jobs ever going in
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Scotland, but that is simply a cruel deception of people. It would do them no good whatever to pretend that that is the case. We will give every support to those people in the difficult times that they face ahead.
Q5.  Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): The Prime Minister is an avid reader of the back pages of the national press, so he will be aware, as is the rest of the world, that Wigan Athletic humbled the mighty Arsenal on its own pitch last night to reach the Carling cup final. However, Wigan is more than just a football and rugby league premier townwe have other facilities. However, if we are going to attract a national team to Wigan for the Olympics, we need more and better facilities. Will he have a less than quiet word in the ear of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, through the nations and regions group that she is setting up, to ask whether we can have an international swimming pool so that we can have a legacy and the ability to train athletes who will be world champions in the future?
The Prime Minister: At the risk of alienating every Arsenal supporter in the country, I congratulate Wigan on its progress. Unfortunately, I had the poor judgment to switch off in the 28th minute of extra time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was nodding throughout my hon. Friend's question. I was not quite sure whether she was nodding when he got to his swimming pool point, but I am sure that she will listen carefully to what he says. The Olympics has tremendous potential for every region of the country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that Wigan has come an enormous way in the past few years in every sporting sense, so I am sure that it will benefit enormously from the Olympics, which, as I say, I believe will benefit not only London, but the whole of the country.
Q6.  Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Whether or not we are to have a Great Britain day, will the Prime Minister at least do what he can to help to keep the UK theme on British early-morning radio so that we can promote a UK theme, especially on Burns night?
The Prime Minister: Obviously, my influence with the BBC is legendary. I know that it will be aware of the strong feeling that is being expressed by the hon. Gentleman and many others in the House and throughout the country.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that strong intergovernmental relationships in Europe are of great importance to this country and that they are enhanced by strong fraternal relationships among our European sister parties?
The Prime Minister:
The relationships across Europe among the political parties and their different groupings have a beneficial impact on parties themselves and are important for the country. In the European Parliament, it is important that the Labour party is able to work with other Labour parties and that the Conservative party is able to work with other Conservative parties. I look forward to that Conservative policy being changed as well, so when that happens, of course I will welcome it.
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Q7.  Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I point out to the Prime Minister that he said that we should listen carefully to what people are saying four times during his reply on policing to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? These police mergers represent exactly the kind of remote regionalism that was rejected by the people of the north-east in the referendum a year ago. Is it not somewhat Orwellian to argue that by abolishing the Essex chief constable and transferring his responsibilities to a regional super-force, policing will be somehow more local?
The Prime Minister: How things are policed in the basic command unit and in local communities is also extremely important, but the hon. Gentleman makes a somewhat exaggerated point. As I said, we have brought forward the proposals because of the inspectorate of constabulary report, at the prompting of ACPO itself. I entirely accept that some people are in favour of mergers, that some are against them and that some are in between. We will have to take a decision on what is best for local police forces, but we will do so listening to what local people say. In the end, surely what we both want to see is the most effective form of policing.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Chester-le-Street in my constituency, which tomorrow celebrates the fact that it has had Labour representation in this House for more than 100 years? Does he agree that a fitting tribute to those early Labour pioneers is the national minimum wage, which was a commitment of the 1906 Labour party? The fact that this Labour Government have introduced it is a tribute to those early pioneers.
The Prime Minister: First, long may Labour representation continue in Chester-le-Street. Secondly, my hon. Friend is right about the minimum wage. It now helps well over 1 million people in this country. It has made a huge difference. Again, I am pleased to say that everyone now accepts that it is right. Along with the support given through the tax credit system to families so that they can work and raise their families properly, it is one of the things that has helped to prove that we can combine economic efficiency and social justice.
Q8.  Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Earlier, the Prime Minister spoke about the number of schools at which 70 per cent. of the pupils achieved five A to C grades. Is he aware that in my constituency no non-faith state secondary school achieves that? The dead hand of Merton local education authority deprives those pupils of achieving standards similar to those in surrounding boroughs. Will he assure my constituents that local authorities will be commissioners, not providers, of education services? Will he give trust schools the necessary autonomy to secure an increase in standards?
The Prime Minister:
It will be important that we use the new powers to raise standards in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and elsewhere, but I am sure that he will accept that one of the benefits of this Government is the massive investment in education. That has meant, for example, that in an area such as his,
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the number of 11-year-olds passing their exams has increased dramatically over the past few years; the number of 16-year-olds getting five good GCSEs[Interruption.] It is true. In Merton and elsewhere, that is exactly what has happened. That is why the process of investment and reform will continue, but under this Government.
Q9.  Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Prime Minister will recall meeting the family of the murdered Leicester teenager Stefan Pakeerah. They believe that the perpetrator of the savage attack on him was influenced by the video game "Manhunt". Is he aware of the new research published by the university of Missouri, which shows a link between violent video games and the greater propensity of people to act with violence? Will he look at that area of policy to see whether there are any further measures that can protect our children? This is not about adult censorship; it is the protection of young children and young people.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has campaigned on that issue for a long time, and I pay tribute to his work. It was partly as a result of his representations that we announced last year that we had commissioned our own research to establish whether there was any substance to the allegations of a link between playing violent computer games and violent behaviour in real life. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport intends to publish the results of that research shortly. We are also aware of the Missouri-Columbia research to the same effect. We will look carefully at the research and study its impact. We will then have a debate on how we take it forward.
Q12.  Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing concern about privatised water companies who threaten to cut off people's water supply? Residents in Sway road, Morriston, in my constituency have been threatened with such action because of a fault with the main water supply. Will he ensure that people always have access to running water?
The Prime Minister: I know that there are protocols in respect of which the water companies are supposed to operate. I do not know about the particular instance that my hon. Friend raises, but I will look into it and write to her.
Q14.  Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)
(Lab/Co-op): As my right hon. Friend will be aware, my private Member's Bill on climate change begins its Committee stage this afternoon. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for support from the Government and Members throughout the House. Will my right hon. Friend look very closely at the
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possibility of ensuring that the Bill is able to bring into law an analysis of the way in which we can use economic and fiscal measures to promote the Government's policies to tackle climate change?
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