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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Progress is being made in the international effort to tackle HIV and AIDS. There has, for example, been a significant scaling up in the level of financial assistance to tackle the epidemic, and the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment in poor countries has risen from 400,000 to more than 2 million. There is, however, a lot more to do.

Mr. Allen: Will the Minister take this opportunity to distance himself from the more weird and wacky groups that are suggesting that abstinence is the only way to combat HIV/AIDS in parts of the world? Will he also take the opportunity to tell the House that as many moneys will go via voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations as will go through some of the dubious central Governments who operate in the areas most afflicted by HIV/AIDS?

Mr. Thomas: I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we do not support abstinence-only programmes for HIV prevention, because none of the available evidence suggests that such programmes are an effective strategy for HIV prevention. He raised a point about the valuable contribution that voluntary sector organisations make. I have had the privilege of seeing some of the work that Christian Aid supports in southern Africa, so I take his point about the need for us to continue to work with the voluntary sector. I hope that he will recognise that where we can have confidence in the commitment of Governments to preventing HIV and AIDS, we should continue to help them scale up their ability to tackle AIDS in their countries.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Will the Department’s forthcoming AIDS strategy continue to contain a dedicated funding target for AIDS, and will a percentage of that funding be allocated to supporting vulnerable children and orphans, as happens today?

Mr. Thomas: The reason why the strategy is forthcoming is that there is still work to do on its preparation, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a preview of what it will contain. One of the reasons why we included specific targets when we published our previous AIDS strategy in July 2004 was to generate significant new political momentum behind the effort to fight AIDS in general and the AIDS orphans crisis. I hope that he will recognise, from the research that he has done, that political momentum behind the fight against AIDS has increased significantly and that much greater effort is being put into tackling the specific problems faced by AIDS orphans.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Although it is recognised that there are many health-related problems in the developing world, does my hon. Friend agree that when money is specifically targeted at preventing HIV/AIDS and reversing that trend in that area, it should be spent on tackling HIV/AIDS and not on other health-related issues?

Mr. Thomas: We need to do both. We must ensure not only that we continue to help tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but, as the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth)
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indicated, that we do more to tackle a range of other health conditions. We cannot fight AIDS without more health workers—more doctors and more nurses—in-country, and we cannot tackle infant and child mortality without there being more health workers in place. We need to do more to tackle the specific problems associated with HIV/AIDS, but we must also ensure that our response to HIV/AIDS helps to tackle those broader health questions.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the Minister accept that on the continent of Africa where HIV/AIDS is a particularly acute problem, as well as education, the other key area is the elimination of corruption, so that the resources deployed can reach those at risk in certain nation states?

Mr. Thomas: We have had many exchanges in the House about the difficulties that corruption causes for Governments who want to help the poorest people in their countries. That is why we have a considerable number of safeguards to help to ensure that our money is spent effectively and goes where it is needed, and to help developing countries to build up their own defences against corruption. I agree that we need to continue to do more in that area.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that we must do more to promote education, especially girls’ education and access to primary education more generally. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have made the commitment to an £8.5 billion investment over the next 10 years from the UK to seek to achieve those objectives.

Saudi Arabia

4. Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary on human rights in Saudi Arabia. [202413]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Human rights are a key issue for UK Ministers and are among the many issues that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discuss on a regular basis. While we welcome efforts to address human rights in Saudi Arabia, the UK Government continue to raise concerns about the human rights situation and to work closely with the Saudi Government to encourage reform.

Mrs. Riordan: The oppression of women is a matter of daily life and capital and corporal punishment are part of the Saudis’ abuses of human rights. Can the Minister assure me that he will work with colleagues in the Foreign Office to ensure that the Saudi regime is not allowed to continue those practices, which are condemned by the rest of the world?

Mr. Alexander: I can give the assurance to my hon. Friend that we continue to press Saudi Arabia to adopt the recommendations of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and in 2007, when we hosted the two kingdoms dialogue at Lancaster house, discussions included specific measures in the area of women’s rights.

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Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): As chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia, I can tell the Minister that, following my discussions with the Foreign Secretary this week, he was pleased—following his visit to that country—with the tremendous advances on human rights. Will the Minister join me in congratulating King Abdullah and his Government on the advances that they are making in improving human rights?

Mr. Alexander: Of course we welcome any progress that is made on human rights. I know that a productive and effective meeting took place in Riyadh between the Foreign Secretary and the Government of Saudi Arabia.

Economic Partnership Agreements

5. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): If he will make a statement on the implementation of economic partnership agreements. [202414]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We anticipate that the economic partnership agreements that have been agreed with 35 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will be signed formally over the next 18 months. We will provide aid for trade support to help those ACP countries implement and benefit from the new opportunities provided by EPAs.

Jo Swinson: The Prime Minister has said that poor countries must be allowed the flexibility to decide, plan and sequence their own trade reforms. However, an analysis last week by Oxfam showed that the interim economic partnership agreements that were hastily concluded in December could mean that Africa loses $360 million each year in tariff cuts. Does the Minister think that an independent evaluation of the EPAs should be made with an eye to revisiting problem areas before the deals are finally signed?

Mr. Thomas: I was at a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development meeting in Ghana last week and had the opportunity to discuss the interim EPAs that have been initialled by many of the non-least developed countries, and also to discuss EPAs with LDCs. There was significant support from several of those countries for the interim EPAs. The hon. Lady is right to note that some countries have highlighted one or two issues, and we want the Commission to continue to show flexibility in responding to those concerns. We need to recognise that the duty and quota-free access offer that the Commission has made to non-LDCs is a significant step forward and that many of the ACP countries, such as Botswana and some Caribbean countries, have been warmly supportive of the efforts that the Commission has made to help them with better trading opportunities in the European Union.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What are the Government doing to help African countries to trade with one another by reducing the tariffs that they impose on one another and strengthening the infrastructure to allow transport links from one African country to another?

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Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the importance of regional integration. We continue to highlight that as one of the potential benefits of moving from interim economic partnership agreements to full regional economic partnership agreements. As I said in my previous answer, we continue to encourage the Commission to show additional flexibility so that we can move from the interim EPAs that have been signed with individual countries to full regional EPAs over the coming months.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I start Prime Minister’s Question Time, may I point out that it is only right and fitting that hon. Members should be heard when they are putting questions? Sustained shouting looks bad and it is not good for the reputation of the House. I have already had a quiet word with Mr. Campbell.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [202395] Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 30 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): 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.

Mr. Jenkins: The Prime Minister is well aware that the global economic turn-down is causing concern to many in our country. Will he assure me today that his top priority will be the British economy, with stability and high employment at its core? Will he assure me that he will never make the statement that 3 million unemployed is a price worth paying?

The Prime Minister: I will never make that statement. It is because of our policies that there are 3 million more people in work than ever before, that we have more vacancies and that unemployment is at its lowest for 30 years. I am grateful to be able to say that in my hon. Friend’s constituency, overall unemployment has fallen 42 per cent. since 1997. The choice in future will be between a Conservative party that caused 3 million unemployed and was responsible for two of the worst recessions in history, and a Labour Government who are on the side of home owners facing difficulties and those facing high fuel prices—a Labour Government who have never seen repossessions reach the level that they were at under the Conservatives. We will continue to fight for every job in this country.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The planted questions get tougher and tougher.

As the Prime Minister knows, there is only one thing more uncomfortable than a U-turn, and that is making a U-turn after repeated protestations that one will not make a U-turn. May I offer him an opportunity to retract what he said last week and to admit that he will have to make major concessions on his proposals to extend detention without charge to 42 days?

The Prime Minister: No. We are going ahead with our proposal and we will put it to the House of Commons. The Opposition parties agree with us in
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principle that there will be terrorism cases where we will need more than 28 days to interview witnesses. The Opposition agree with us that there are certain emergency conditions in which that will be required, and so do the Liberal party and Liberty. The question is whether we have put in place the civil liberties protections that are necessary. We have done that, and that is why we will go ahead with putting the proposal to the House. The Conservative party should support it.

Mr. Cameron: What we object to is new legislation that threatens civil liberties, that is not necessary and that could make the situation worse. Will the Prime Minister listen to his own Director of Public Prosecutions, who said:


He is the man responsible for prosecuting and convicting terrorists. Why will the Prime Minister not listen to him?

The Prime Minister: Will the right hon. Gentleman listen to the police, who have said that they might need the power beyond 28 days? Will he also listen to the independent reviewer, Lord Carlile, who gave evidence only a few days ago about the need for the extra power? Will he not recognise that if we were to have to come to the House in a period of emergency and ask for the extra powers, that would not be the way to go because it would give oxygen to terrorism? It is better to take pre-emptive action now. I think that the Conservative party should be ashamed of itself for not supporting the legislation.

Mr. Cameron: It is not just the DPP who opposes the proposal. The former Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor do too, and the man who was chief inspector of constabulary says that it is wrong. We now know what Labour MPs think about it, as we have been sent a report about that from the Labour Whips’ Office. Only this Government could manage to send it across to us—it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “usual channels”. One Minister says that the 42-day limit has been “plucked from thin air.” Another MP says that he

that is straight from the Prime Minister’s book of courage—but my favourite is from the hon. Member for Ealing, who sums up the Labour party’s mood when he says that he “will support” it but thinks that it is “barmy.” Why does the Prime Minister think that he cannot persuade his own MPs?

The Prime Minister: Is it not remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman will never address the substantial issue? The substantial issue for our country is whether it is right to have the power in law that it may be necessary for the police to go beyond 28 days. The substantial issue is whether, when facing a major terrorist incident, Ministers should have to come before the House and ask for that extra power, when we could take it in a precautionary way.

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I believe that we have dealt with the civil liberties arguments on this issue. We have accepted the requirement that the Home Secretary must come to the House if an order is needed in any particular case. We have given new powers to the independent reviewer, so that he can adjudicate the case. We have given new powers to the judiciary, so that every seven days the person involved must come before the judiciary before the detention is confirmed. I believe that we are protecting the country’s civil liberties and that the Conservative party is making a mistake if it believes that we should not have this precautionary legislation, in circumstances where sophisticated investigations that go right across the world, involving mobile phones, e-mails and computers, mean that the amount of police work and time needed to investigate cases is a great deal higher. I believe that the Conservatives would be making a mistake if they opposed this legislation.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is wrong. We have addressed the substantive issues. We said, “Use intercept evidence in terror trials,” and he is beginning to take up that proposal. We said, “Question suspects after charge,” and that is in the Counter-Terrorism Bill. We said, “Let’s have a proper border police force,” and the Prime Minister got the “border” bit, but does not seem to understand the “police” bit. The Prime Minister reels off the changes that he has made, but he has not convinced anybody. The former Attorney-General has said that

How far is he prepared to take this battle with his party? Will the vote be an issue of confidence for his Government?

The Prime Minister: We will put our proposal before the House. It will be one that I believe Conservative and Liberal Members should also think carefully about. If the right hon. Gentleman had to examine the cases for terrorist asset freezes, as I did when I was Chancellor, or if he had to examine the cases that come before the police, he would know the sophistication of the investigations that are now required. They look internationally at a range of matters, including computer documents and e-mails, and that means that there will come a time when it is difficult for the police to do a sophisticated investigation in 28 days.

If I may say so, we as a House should take the precautionary position and adopt the proposed extra power. It cannot be triggered without the Home Secretary coming back again to the House to ask for it. That means that we vote in principle for a 42-days limit, but at the same time say that the Home Secretary must come before the House. I believe that the issue for the House was whether people would be subject to arbitrary detention. We have taken all the precautions necessary against arbitrary detention. We should now go ahead with this measure, and the Conservative party should support it.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about the sophistication of the prosecutions, but who knows more about that—the Prime Minister, or the Director of Public Prosecutions? The DPP is the man responsible for trying to convict and imprison the people involved.

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