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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 484-ii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
ORAL EVIDENCE FROM THE PRIME MINISTER
RT HON DAVID CAMERON MP
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 1 - 83
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Liaison Committee
on Tuesday 11 December 2012
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Adrian Bailey
Mr Clive Betts
Sir Malcolm Bruce
Dr Hywel Francis
Miss Anne McIntosh
Mr Andrew Tyrie
Mr Tim Yeo
Examination of Witness
Witness: Rt Hon David Cameron MP, Prime Minister, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome, Prime Minister. We are glad to have you with us this afternoon. As you know, we are going to cover the direction in which the criminal justice and policing system will be going, and then we will look at green Government. We also have a couple of questions at the end from Sir Malcolm Bruce about the post-2015 development goals.
You made a speech to the Centre for Social Justice on 22 October in which you talked about being "tough but intelligent" in dealing with crime-that sounds pretty good. You appointed a new Lord Chancellor, and you said that his driving vision was to see "more people properly punished, but fewer offenders returning to the system." What types of offenders were not being properly punished?
Mr Cameron: I think, for some offences, that we see punishments that do not necessarily have the confidence of the public. When I say "tough but intelligent", it means more of both. I think there are some instances when we need a tougher response and a response that the public can have confidence in, but it is not just about banging up more people in prison. It is, as the Lord Chancellor has said, about trying to ensure that fewer of them return, which means a greater focus on rehabilitation, the programmes in prison and all the rest of it.
There are some specific areas where I think that the response has not been satisfactory, so we have made some changes. For instance, there is the change on knife crime, where now offences committed with a knife have a stiff minimum sentence. That would be one example, and another would be the recent sentencing paper, in which we introduced some mandatory life sentences for second very, very violent and serious offences. Again, that is an area where I think the public and I would feel that two of the most serious offences should carry a mandatory life sentence. That does not mean that you are in prison for life, but I think that the concept of the life sentence-where you give up your liberty and even if you get out of prison, the state can call you back into prison, and therefore it is a life sentence-is supported by the public. I support that, and I think it was a good advance.
Q2 Chair: Is it about just winning public confidence, or is it a view that we have been too lenient towards some people?
Mr Cameron: I think the two go together. The purposes of punishment are obviously deterrence and also retribution. I do not think that retribution is a dirty word. In a civilised society, we give up our rights to punish other people and vest that right in the state, and the state has to do the job properly. Otherwise, we lack confidence in the society and the state to which we belong. Punishment has the purpose to deter, but also to demonstrate society’s anger about something, and that is why the rules are as they are.
Q3 Chair: Is it going to mean that we need more prison places?
Mr Cameron: I hope it doesn’t. We should build as many prison places as we need to house the convicted criminals that we have, but the intention behind our policy is to say- If you look at the situation we inherited, each prison place costs £45,000 and half of people reoffend within with two years. It is a badly broken and expensive system, so that is why the whole emphasis is on the fact that, yes, we must be tough, because the public expect that and I believe that, but we want to be intelligent, because we want fewer people returning to prison, so let us have more education in prisons and more programmes in prisons-this so-called rehabilitation revolution, where we want to have organisations paid by results if they can keep people out of prison. That is all about trying to reduce the costs of the criminal justice system because, in common with every area that you are going to ask me about, Sir Alan, we are having to do more with less. If we are going to try to do better criminal justice with less money, we have to ensure that we are making savings.
Q4 Chair: Indeed, in that speech, you said: "We’ve tried just banging people up and it’s failed…So I’m not going to try and out-bid any other politician on toughness, saying ‘let’s just bang them up for longer, let’s have more isolation’". You said: "let’s use that time…inside to have a proper positive impact". I very much agree with you but, as you have just said, the MOJ has to take its share of the cuts to cope with the deficit. At the same time, we are going to need at least as many prison places if my assumption about what you said earlier is correct. It costs money to provide the regimes that make good use of the time that people are inside, does it not?
Mr Cameron: It does. There are a number of ways that we can save money, but there are two basic ways. You have the basic cost of £45,000 per prisoner, which is very expensive. The process that Chris Grayling is going through of looking at an element of contracting out in terms of prisons, but also ensuring that existing providers reduce their costs, is one way of saving money. The other way is obviously getting fewer people to return to prison, where there is the whole idea of paying all the probation services effectively by results. But also this is trying to make sure that as people leave prison, there is a proper pathway, instead of-as Chris Grayling himself put it-just putting some money in the hand of the prisoner and opening the door. It is about actually making sure that as soon as you leave prison, you are into a programme where you get rehabilitation and help to keep you out of prison.
Q5 Chair: There was another interesting passage in that speech when you said "for anyone sentenced to a spell in prison, there will be space in prison…The number of people behind bars will not be about bunks available, it will be about" the number of people sentenced. It struck me that there was a sentence missing there. Shouldn’t there have been a sentence that said, "And for anyone the judge thinks should be on a tough community programme with his drug and alcohol addiction being treated, there will be a space on a programme"?
Mr Cameron: Yes, that is a fair point. One of the things we have done is to say that every community penalty should include an element of punishment. I want sentencers, magistrates, Crown courts and the public to have confidence in community sentences so that judges feel able to give them in appropriate circumstances, knowing that the public will think that is a tough option, not a soft option. There are definitely people who go to prison who shouldn’t be there, particularly with very short sentences, because there is not much time to educate, reform and turn around the life of someone who gets a short prison sentence. Sometimes the sentencers feel frustrated that they don’t have a good, tough community penalty. This is the intelligent bit, if you like, of "tough but intelligent". I would add to that GPS tags. I think that the idea of tracking tags is quite attractive, because you can hopefully create a sort of virtual prison, as it were, whereby someone does not go to prison but, because they are on a tracking tag, you can make sure that they are not going to places they shouldn’t go to. So we need to be more intelligent about how we punish people.
Q6 Chair: What worried me about that bit in the speech was that you seemed to be addressing a problem that does not really exist, rather than the problem that does. If you are a judge or a magistrate and you sentence someone to custody, a van will wait outside, take them away and a place will be found for them. It may result in overcrowding like at Lincoln prison, but they will put them somewhere. If you actually say that what this person needs is something to repay the community, and action to deal with alcohol or drug abuse, you have to start inquiring whether it is available locally and will it be good enough to meet this person’s need. What your authority would be useful in doing is making sure that the programmes are there.
Mr Cameron: I accept that; it is really what the rehabilitation revolution is about. The ambition is that for everyone but the toughest cases, by the end of 2015, all those people being punished in the community should be on programmes where the organisations are paid by results. I hope that that will bring into this area a lot of new organisations and a lot of new thinking about how you turn people’s lives around.
Q7 Chair: Are we going to have a White Paper or a Green Paper on the rehabilitation revolution?
Mr Cameron: Well, we have had some changes already on the community sentences. On a Green Paper, I will have to write to you about the exact process of this reform. Perhaps I can give you some detail about that.
Q8 Chair: It just seems to me that you and your staff in No. 10 carry a lot of weight in Departments. Sometimes you use it to get particular outcomes. It would be unfortunate if the only outcome was on the maybe necessary public confidence side, and it was not in achieving the other side of what you were arguing for. Are you making sure that that part of what you want is going to be delivered?
Mr Cameron: Yes. I would argue that the No. 10 influence on this process is pretty balanced. Obviously, I want the Government to have serious regard to public confidence in the criminal justice system. I think, as Prime Minister, that that is important. Actually it is No. 10 and, to an extent, the policy unit that have been very active in pushing the whole agenda of the rehabilitation revolution, wanting to get more programmes into prison and wanting to be more aggressive about payment by results, so I see us very much as a force for trying to push that reform. To me, the two go together. You’ve got a better chance of taking the public with you on the intelligent part of rehabilitation-teaching prisoners to read, having more drugs programmes and all the rest of it-and getting in things that will work if the public have an overall confidence that this is not a soft system, but a tough, proper and robust system. To me the two have always gone together. I do not see any conflict between the two, and I think that No. 10 is pretty evenly balanced on the two.
Q9 Chair: Just one quick point on another justice matter: judicial review. You made some rather strong comments about the impediment that it posed to certain kinds of development, but aren’t the changes you plan to make-increasing the cost, for example-an impediment to the little man who is being pushed around by the Executive?
Mr Cameron: I just think that there has been an explosion in the number of reviews. I have the figures: in 1998, there were 4,500 applications; that has tripled in a decade. Some are clearly well-founded-there are cases such as the west coast main line, which was an important judicial review-but I think it has now become a mechanism to slow down things you don’t agree with and to try to fur up the system.
One of the things I have found as Prime Minister-I made this point in a speech yesterday-is about the process of getting things done because of consultation, statutory consultees, judicial reviews and legal constraints. Some of them are perfectly reasonable, but more and more things have grown up in the system, some of which are not necessary.
Our proposals are: to shorten the length of time following an initial decision that you can make an application; to halve the number of opportunities that are currently available to challenge; and to reform the fees so that they actually cover the costs of providing the judicial review proceedings which, in a time of straitened circumstances, is only fair. In doing those things, you are not abolishing judicial review; you are just trying to ensure it is reasonable.
Q10 Keith Vaz: Prime Minister, may we turn to police morale? Some 95% of police officers feel that the Government do not support them and 50% want to change their jobs. Lord Stevens, a former Commissioner, said that there was a national crisis in policing. Bearing in mind that the Police Federation was once referred to as the Conservative party at prayer, are you worried that it is now demonstrating against the Government and that there is so much concern about your policing agenda?
Mr Cameron: First, let me put on record that I think the British police do a magnificent job. They are extremely brave individuals. I see them every day of my life and the work that they do. I have enormous respect for them. It is an organisation of which we can be very proud as a country. I totally understand that they are facing a number of challenges right now and that we have made cuts to police budgets which are presenting huge challenges for British policing. My sense is that, yes, there are challenges, but they are meeting these challenges very effectively.
When I look at the figures, what I see is the most important thing-that crime is falling. Victim satisfaction with policing is stable or up. The response times that the police are giving the public are stable. If you look at front-line policing, the number of community officers has actually increased over recent years.
Of course there are challenges, and I totally accept that the police are being asked to do a number of things at once. You have had the pay freeze and you have reforms to pensions, the Winsor review of allowances and conditions, and budget reductions. We are asking public services to do a huge amount, and my response is to say to the police, "Thank you for responding so positively and doing all these things while providing a fantastic service."
Q11 Keith Vaz: If you look at the leadership of the police, as opposed to the grass roots, does it concern you that 26 of the 43 police forces either do not have a chief constable, or have a chief constable who is about to retire?
Mr Cameron: I saw those figures in an article in The Sunday Times. I have had them checked and we don’t recognise them-I don’t think they are 100% right. There have been some big challenges to policing, as I have just said. There have also been the challenges of the Leveson report and all that. Again, what I would say from the chief constables I come into contact with-I see quite a number while travelling round the country-is that we are very fortunate to have some extremely talented chief constables. Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has come in to run the Met, is extremely capable and competent, and Sara Thornton, my own chief constable in Thames Valley, has managed to deal with these spending reductions without really any reduction in front-line policing at all, as far as I can see. I know that there is a lot more new talent coming through the police force.
Q12 Keith Vaz: You don’t think it is anything more than a natural changeover.
Mr Cameron: There are one or two individual circumstances. There has been a removal of a chief constable in one or two cases. Otherwise, you do get times, in any organisation, when you get quite a lot of change at the top. What I see of the chief constables I come across is that they extremely capable and competent people.
Q13 Keith Vaz: Was the turnout in the recent PCC elections a worry? If we take the west midlands, for example, Bob Jones was elected with less than 12% of the population.
Mr Cameron: It was disappointing-I will not hide that-just as I thought the turnout in some of the recent by-elections was disappointing. First of all, I think something like 5 million people voted for police and crime commissioners, which is a huge amount more than voted for their predecessors, as it were. What I feel confident about is that, from now on, every community has a local law and order champion. That person will make their voice heard and will call the police to account. They will become well known over the next four to five years, and when the next set of elections comes, I am confident that the turnout will be higher. Sometimes these reforms take time to demonstrate their worth, but we have some talented candidates who got elected, and I look forward to them making an impact.
Q14 Keith Vaz: I do not expect you to have read the Select Committee’s report on drugs, but today HSBC was fined £1.2 billion in respect of the money laundering of, basically, drugs profits. We have recommended that those at the senior level of banks should actually face criminal sanctions. Only 1% of drugs profits are caught within the banking system. Do you think we need to be tougher on the penalties for those who launder money in this way?
Mr Cameron: I have not read your report, and I look forward to doing so. As I was on the Home Affairs Committee when it previously looked at this issue, I will have a look at your report.
Keith Vaz: And we miss you.
Mr Cameron: Thank you very much. I was particularly interested in what you said about legal highs. I thought that looked rather an interesting policy suggestion, and I have asked my team at No. 10 to have a look at it.
On the issue of money laundering, it is a very serious offence. We do have quite strict controls in this country in terms of how banking regulation and money laundering regulation works. I have always said with respect to bankers that if they get it wrong, they should, like anybody else, feel the full force of the law.
Q15 Keith Vaz: Finally, yesterday at the Westminster lunch, you mentioned the case of Jacintha Saldanha. You expressed sympathy for the family and they are very grateful for what you said. Do you think it is important that they be given the full facts of what happened in this case?
Mr Cameron: Yes, of course. First of all, let me say again that this was a dreadful case and it is an absolute tragedy for the family. When you read of how hard she had worked across her life, of all the things she had done and of how much she cared about health and looking after people, it is a terrible, terrible case. As I said yesterday, I am sure there are lessons to learn. I think that, when these things happen, having the full facts of the case does not bring anybody back, but it does help people to come to terms with what has happened. In so far as that is possible, I would support that.
Q16 Dr Francis: Good afternoon, Prime Minister. I’d like to ask you some questions about the Justice and Security Bill. You will be aware that the amendments to the Bill passed in the Lords were based on recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair. Do you understand fully why a considerable majority in the Lords shared my Committee’s anxieties about the lack of effective judicial control over closed material procedures in the Bill? Will the Government be coming forward with amendments that properly address this concern?
Mr Cameron: The short answer is yes and yes. Let me stand back from the whole thing for a second. I think that this Bill is important. The key proposal in it is important for a very simple reason. I feel this quite strongly as Prime Minister, having been involved in the decision to order proper mediation for the Guantanamo detainees and having accepted that they should be, effectively, paid a lot of money. When we did that, part of the agreement was that we should address this quite serious-relatively small, but serious-gap in our legal proceedings, which is that if someone makes a complaint against the Government and the security services, they really have no way of defending themselves in a court process because to defend themselves would mean producing intelligence and information that would basically make it impossible for us to have those sorts of capabilities. Then people say, "What about public interest immunity certificates?" Of course, PIIs help, but PIIs mean that you cannot produce the evidence in court; the evidence is taken out of the court. That is why I think you do need, in a limited number of cases, closed material proceedings, where this evidence can be properly looked at in court.
Of course, I think it is good that this is being properly scrutinised by Parliament. I pay tribute to your Committee for looking into it and making sure we get this right. However, the simple idea is that it is only for civil cases-not for criminal cases or inquests-that you need to have this special procedure. It is not a massive departure, because we have the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal. It only happens with the permission of the judge, not under the order of the politician. If you have those safeguards and that approach, it seems to me that this is important.
Q17 Dr Francis: Can I press you on this question of transparency? Both the majority in the Lords and my Committee were concerned about this issue. This is a time when there is a great deal of public suspicion about many of our national institutions. Do you think that anything that decreases transparency in the judicial process, especially if it is triggered by the Government, would only deepen that suspicion?
Mr Cameron: If it was only triggered by the Government, I could see your point. The point, as the independent reviewer of terrorism said, is, "There is a small…category of national-security related claims, both for judicial review of executive decisions and for civil damages, in respect of which it is preferable that the option of a CMP…should exist." That is what our adviser on terrorism-someone who has a deep history of supporting civil liberties in our country-is telling us.
Yes, of course a closed material proceeding is less transparent than an ordinary civil case. But there is a reason for having a closed material proceeding, which is that if you do not have one, the case will not be heard. We are not talking about a bit of justice that previously was open; we are saying that in order for justice to be done, in order for our intelligence agencies to be able to produce evidence in a court of law so that innocence or guilt can be proved in a civil case, we need these closed material proceedings. It is not making the system less transparent; it is extending justice.
Q18 Dr Francis: But the Bill contains nothing at all to ensure that Parliament is closely involved in keeping such an extraordinary measure under review. Will the Government be introducing, for example, a sunset clause and making provision for independent review of the Act’s operation by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation?
Mr Cameron: That is a good question. We are not planning a sunset clause for the simple reason that, as I said, you have a small number of cases where people who may want to do Britain harm are going to want to sue our intelligence services. It may be an entirely spurious claim, but you cannot prove it is a spurious claim unless you produce the evidence. Given that this could be an ongoing problem and that it is a discrete set of cases, I do not see the case for a sunset clause. Normally, you have a sunset clause if you are trying to solve a problem, then the problem goes away and the Bill falls. This could be an ongoing problem.
In terms of how best Parliament can scrutinise this area of policy and practice, I am open to suggestions. Clearly, we have very effective Select Committees. I am sure they will want to look at this continually as it is, I hope, introduced and put into practice. I am convinced that when people see that it is not about turning current cases into untransparent cases-it is about making sure new cases are heard-they will see that it is not a problem. On the point about the independent reviewer of terrorism, he is pretty free to look at what he likes.
Q19 Dr Francis: Could I now turn to your speech to the CBI on 19 November? You said that the Government is, "Calling time on equality impact assessments," and will be shortening, or abandoning altogether, some Government consultations. That is pretty strong language. Isn’t calling time on such impact assessments just a way of reducing the Government’s political accountability to Parliament?
Mr Cameron: No, I do not believe it is. This is a classic example of where the Whitehall machine, for all its brilliance, slightly over-interpreted what Parliament intended. Parliament did not intend that an equality impact assessment had to be written for every single policy, but that is what was actually introduced. Effectively, we found that Whitehall was producing a rather tick-box exercise for some policies, when what you really want is for policy makers and policy creators to think about equality all the way through the process. If you have done that, you do not need the tick-box assessment at the end of the process. What I was saying to the CBI is that we have looked again at what the law actually requires, we have seen that we are doing this in a very bureaucratic way and we are calling time on the assessments, because they are not necessary in every case. We need to make sure that equality is properly looked at as we make policy. If you need an impact assessment, produce one, but it should not be mandatory; in some cases, it had literally become an additional exercise that added no value at all.
Q20 Dr Francis: Could I hazard the opinion of my Committee, then? My Committee really does feel that they are extremely valuable and important in terms of democratic accountability and engagement. Will you take account of the views of my Committee before you make any rash decisions?
Mr Cameron: I will certainly have a look at what your Committee has to say. Maybe we should share with you some examples of where this was just the ticking of a box, rather than what you want, which is the serious consideration of whether something will impact equality or not. That is what you want policy makers to be doing. In Government, you find this a lot: all too often, you have form over substance. It is the substance that matters, not putting in place some sort of rather synthetic exercise that does not really change anything.
Q21 Chair: So if you don’t write the equality impact assessment until after you have finished revising the Bill and the policy, it has not served its purpose?
Mr Cameron: Yes. What you need to demonstrate is that, throughout the process of devising the policy, you are thinking very carefully about equality. For instance, to take a real-life example, we instituted a pay freeze in the public sector. We were concerned about how this would impact the low-paid. Many low-paid people in the public services are women, so we were also concerned about the impact on women. That is why we exempted people under a certain salary from the freeze, and put in place a cash increase for those people. That was thinking about equality, whereas if you had just introduced the policy at the end, and gone tick, cross, tick, you wouldn’t have been. That is what you want in Whitehall: thinking about equality all the way through, not just some sort of exercise at the end.
Q22 Mr Tyrie: You said a moment ago that David Anderson, the terrorism law watchdog, is pretty free to look at whatever he wants. Did you know that he asked to see the 27 cases that were listed in the Justice and Security Green Paper, about which the Government said: "We estimate that sensitive information is central to 27 cases"? He asked to see the papers for those, and that request was refused.
Mr Cameron: I didn’t know that.
Q23 Mr Tyrie: Did you know that, finally, he got to see three civil cases? You quoted him in support of your case a moment ago; of those three cases, he concluded, "I assume they were chosen for their ability clearly to illustrate the Government’s point of view." Did you know that?
Mr Cameron: I didn’t know that. But why are we doing this? I don’t want to waste the Government’s time or waste the House of Commons’ time. We are doing this because we perceive, and I have been advised, that there is a problem. We saw that problem in the light of the Guantanamo detainees: you get a series of civil actions against the Government-sometimes they are serious accusations, but sometimes, as I say, they may be frivolous accusations or ones meaning to do harm-and you can’t deal with those cases through the existing process. The case doesn’t get to court: you settle before you even get to court, because you know you are not going to be able to produce the evidence, because it is secret evidence that would reveal your techniques and methods and all the rest of it. That is the problem; plus, we have not even mentioned Norwich Pharmacal, which is another problem.
Q24 Mr Tyrie: If we get a chance, we will come on to that.
Mr Cameron: It all links to the control principle, which I know you know is important: other countries share intelligence with us on the basis that that will remain secret; if we can’t guarantee that, they won’t give us intelligence. That is why this all matters, because, in the end, if other countries do not give us intelligence, we may be less safe here in this country. That is why I do not believe that, as Prime Minister, I am wasting everyone’s time with this legislation. It is not something I came into politics to achieve, as it were. This is something that has been put on my desk. I can see there is a problem for national security, and, having listened very carefully to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which we are doing, the responsible thing to do is to act.
Q25 Mr Tyrie: Would you agree that the special advocates, who currently run secret courts-they are the lawyers specially charged to perform that function, and there are 69 of them-have a particular expertise in this forum?
Mr Cameron: They have an expertise, clearly, for the SIAC system, yes.
Q26 Mr Tyrie: Did you know that what they said on this? You said a moment ago that you would not get justice by the existing court system.
Mr Cameron: Well, we haven’t. There are actual cases of that, where we have had, effectively, to pay up for cases that we knew we had no prospect of defending in court.
Q27 Mr Tyrie: But we don’t know, and even David Anderson does not know whether any of these cases really were ones where the Government was in a vulnerable position or had a strong case, because he has not had an opportunity to see them. Let us just see what the special advocates have to say about it. They say that "there is as yet no example of a civil claim involving national security that has proved untriable using PII and flexible and imaginative use of ancillary procedures." In other words, they are saying that this can be achieved "without unacceptable disclosure of sensitive material".
On a similar point-you have referred to Norwich Pharmacal-the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution concluded that "there is no credible risk that the judiciary of this country would order the disclosure of secret intelligence material, wherever it emanates from." Indeed, there is no case-
Mr Cameron: The point about this is no one is arguing that a judge is going to reveal sensitive evidence. The point is that the case will not come to court in the first place, because the Government will not want to put secret evidence in front of an open court.
Q28 Mr Tyrie: Special advocates are flatly contradicting that. They are saying that we can use PII. They are saying so publicly.
Mr Cameron: If you use PII, the evidence is withdrawn from the court, rather than it going into the court. You are quoting your experts. Let me quote a letter to The Times, Wednesday 21 November, including Lord Faulks, Lord West, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who is the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Baroness Neville-Jones, who was National Security Minister, Lord Woolf of Barnes, who is a former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, etc.-
Chair: Never mind the list; let us have the content.
Mr Cameron: They are great, good, worthy people-even more worthy than the examples that Andrew Tyrie gave us-and they say, very clearly: "We believe the Government is therefore right to extend the availability of CMPs to other civil courts. This would ensure that the security and intelligence agencies can defend themselves against allegations made against them." As I say, this is being done after very careful consideration, and it is not just about enabling the security services to defend themselves-important as that is, and I am the Minister for the security services and take that responsibility seriously-but we also want a situation where other countries can give us secret intelligence that can be kept secret.
Q29 Mr Tyrie: If we have time, we might come on to that very last point.
You made a remark earlier that was very closely related to the first part of your reply. You were saying, basically, "We are doing this in order to get to justice. Justice is not being done, because these cases are being closed down." That is your argument, isn’t it, Prime Minister?
Mr Cameron: Yes. Well, that is part of our argument, yes.
Q30 Mr Tyrie: Lord Macdonald is the former DPP. I do not think that anyone would describe him as a softie on terrorism matters. He says: "I have spent many years in criminal courts watching evidence that at first sight seemed persuasive, truthful and accurate disintegrating under cross-examination conducted upon the instructions of one of the parties…That is the risk that we are facing, that we are introducing"-this is your proposal, Prime Minister-"into civil justice-in the most sensitive and controversial cases, where deeply serious allegations are made against the Government and the security services-a process that expels the claimant and gives him a form of justice that is not better than nothing. It is worse than nothing because it may be justice that is based on entirely misleading evidence." That is your DPP, Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron: Yes, but the point that I would make is that these cases are not taking over from an existing set of cases. They are taking over from a set of cases that do not reach court at all. I would throw back the question to you in a way. If you were in my position, what would you do about the fact that we are having to pay out money often to quite unsavoury people, who might have made totally bogus allegations against Britain, and we have no method of hearing these cases in court? PII can’t work, because PII is about excluding the evidence. If you do not have a closed material proceeding, what do you do?
What we are prepared to do is say that these closed material proceedings only apply in civil cases. They would never in criminal cases and never apply in inquests. They will only happen when the judge wants them to happen, not at the order of the Minister. All those safeguards will be in place. We have a responsibility to sort this issue out. In doing so, we have the backing, as I have said, of the former Lord Chief Justice, former Lord Chancellors and many others in the system who recognise that this is, as it were, regrettable, but necessary.
Q31 Mr Tyrie: The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, came out strongly against Norwich Pharmacal, but that will get technical.
I will just pick up on one last point. You said that this would be at the order of a judge and not of a Minister. If you look at the Bill that was introduced in the Lords, clause 6 clearly states that the court-that is, the judge-must, on the application of the Minister, refer the case to a CMP. No judicial discretion was provided for in the Bill; and that is why this Bill has gone down in amendment after amendment in the House of Lords by majorities of over 100.
Will you now tell us, and reassure us, that you are actually going to do what you said just a moment ago you preferred, which is restore discretion to the judge and make sure that that discretion rests there for him to decide, first, whether CMP should be granted, and, second, whether, rather than going down the CMP route, he may first try to see if a settlement can be obtained through PII?
Mr Cameron: First, the Government introduced this Bill knowing it is a difficult and controversial issue. We didn’t do this thinking, "Well, this one will sail through the Lords and then sail through the Commons, and there won’t be any issues." This is a very controversial issue, but it deals with an important national security issue that has to be dealt with. We always knew there was going to be lively debate-amendment; and we want to accept as many amendments as possible without wrecking the central purpose of the Bill, which is to allow these cases to be heard. In terms of discretion, it will always be a judge who decides whether their use is appropriate-not Ministers.
Q32 Chair: That sounds as though you have accepted one of the Lords amendments.
Mr Cameron: I don’t want to-
Q33 Mr Tyrie: Well, you have-
Mr Cameron: No, I have said very carefully what I have said, but I don’t want to-Ken Clarke has got a difficult enough job to do already without me trying to convince his former adviser that he has got it right.
Mr Tyrie: There are flat contradictions in clause 6.
Mr Cameron: On the second point, which is the amendment that specifically says you have to exhaust the PII route before the closed material proceedings, I am receiving advice about that, but I think that is extremely difficult to accept, because I think that would block the system in a very, very bureaucratic way.
What you can say is that the Government has engaged with the argument in a very constructive way, accepting amendments where we can, accepting what the Joint Committee says. There is no secret agenda here. I have no great desire to introduce a system of secret justice. That is not what this is about. It is a very single problem we are trying to deal with, and trying to deal with in the most sensitive way possible.
Chair: We must move on to another problem; Mr Yeo.
Q34 Mr Yeo: Chairman, I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Prime Minister, your policy on gay marriage is admirably clear, and I am glad to say it has my full support. What is not quite so admirably clear is the energy policy, to which I would also like to give my full support, if I was clear who actually speaks for the Government on energy policy. Even within the Department of Energy itself, there are two, sometimes conflicting, ministerial voices, and the publication of the long-awaited and rather important Energy Bill was apparently delayed for some time because of an irreconcilable difference between the Treasury and the Department of Energy.
Does your reported intervention to block the appointment of Dr David Kennedy as the permanent secretary at the Department of Energy-the candidate nominated by the Secretary of State-mean that you have decided that energy policy should now be decided in the Treasury?
Mr Cameron: There is a lot in there, I must say. It is an interesting segue from gay marriage to green energy, but anyway.
Chair: More clarity, I think, is what was meant.
Mr Cameron: First, let me make a general statement. I think this Government has the most incredibly green set of energy policies and I think we can be very, very proud of them. I think there are few countries in the world that come anywhere close to what Britain has done and is proposing to do.
We are the first country in the world to set up a green investment bank and, at a time of fiscal hardship, put £3 billion into it. We are the first country in the world to introduce a proper renewable heat incentive into our system. We have set out a set of green energy payments so that any business, anywhere in the world, can come to Britain and, if they put their investment in place before 2017-that is five years from where we are now-they will know what subsidy they will get for 20 years out. That is why we have got the biggest offshore wind industry anywhere in the world.
The level of green investment in our country has massively increased. The green economy is growing by 3% a year compared with the rest of the economy, which, sadly, isn’t growing at that speed. In terms of Government’s own responsibility, we said we would cut our energy use by 10%; we have cut it by 13%. I am incredibly proud of what we are doing right across the green agenda and particularly in terms of energy.
Why has this taken some time? I tell you why it has taken some time: it’s difficult, because there is a very important balance you have to strike. How much are we going to ask consumers to pay in terms of subsidy through their bills, and how much are we going to offer as incentives to make sure Britain is leading this green energy, green tech, green jobs revolution? It took time to get that right, and I make absolutely no apology for that. Government has to take time. If this was a Conservative-only Government, we would probably be having discussions within the Conservative party about what the right balance is. I think we have now struck that balance. We have got a superb set of energy incentives that we can market all over the world, and I will be leading that myself with a very talented team of energy Ministers.
On the specific issue of David Kennedy, it would be wrong to talk about specific individuals and specific cases. Let me just say that, having settled the energy policy not just for this Parliament but, as I said, up to 2017 for specific payments and then the levy control framework right out to 2020, the most important thing we need now at the Department of Energy and Climate Change is commercial experience and the ability to do deals. I want to see wave upon wave of investment coming into Britain to build our nuclear power stations, to invest in the North sea and to build green tech, green jobs and green investment. That is what DECC has got to do. That is what all Government Departments have to do. I told the Cabinet today, "Now we have got a determined energy policy, let us get out there and sell it to the rest of the world." That is the priority.
Q35 Mr Yeo: Acknowledging the significant improvements to the Energy Bill that have been made since it appeared in draft form, and entirely sharing your wish to see investment decisions brought forward, there is still one area where there is concern. Setting a target for emissions from electricity generation has been put off until 2016, which is prolonging one element of uncertainty for some investors. Would it not be better to include even a range for an emissions target-perhaps of 50 to 100 grams per kWh-in secondary legislation now rather than waiting for four years? Or, if you could not do that, at least perhaps bring forward the date on which the target will be set to 2014, when the fourth carbon budget, which was agreed last year, will be reviewed and will, I trust, be confirmed. Mr Cameron: That is a very good question, and I have spent some time thinking about this. There are three points I would make. One is that I would challenge whether a decarbonisation target is really necessary to give industry the certainty it wants. What industry wants is the certainty about the payments that will be received if you go ahead and build a wind turbine or other such things, and we have done that. That is the pounds, shillings and pence that businesses know about. I think, in a way, the question rather gives away the answer. If you are saying, "Why not just have a range?"-if you want certainty, what good is a range? I do not think that argument really stacks up.
Secondly, I think there is a very good reason for not determining this now, which is that the idea of a decarbonisation target for 2030-2030 will be determined by the fifth carbon budget, which is not fixed until 2016, so the right time to talk about it is 2016.
The third and final point is that decarbonisation targets only really make sense when you know what is going to be possible in terms of carbon capture and storage. We are putting serious money into carbon capture and storage; again, I think we are leading the world on this in terms of saying, "Here are some funds. Let us have demonstrator projects and all the rest of it." Until we know about how commercially deliverable that technology is, we cannot truly tell how much gas is likely to be part of the energy mix.
Sorry, there is a fourth point as well. As you know, there is a gas revolution taking place across the world. You see America becoming virtually self-sufficient in gas, and there is the opportunity of unconventional gas-shale gas-here in the UK. We do not know exactly what is going to happen to gas prices, gas availability and the rest of it. I think it makes good sense to have set your subsidy regime for renewable energy right out into the future, to have a very clear policy on nuclear and to get out and sell that as aggressively as you can, but on gas to recognise, "There is a revolution under way. I want us to be part of that revolution." When we know more about carbon capture and storage, I think we will be in a better place to determine whether you can truly decarbonise your electricity supplies.
Q36 Mr Yeo: You will know that my Committee has been supporting exploitation of the shale gas reserves for over a year and a half. I think the need for the target has been reintroduced by the gas strategy, which talks about the possibility of 37 GW of new gas-fired capacity. It is clear that if that was all built and run at a rate of more than 30%, we would not even get to 100 grams per kWh, which is the upper end of the range I suggested. So because the Treasury is advocating this gas strategy while you have got debt which is still saying, "Let’s have an energy mix, which will help to reduce the interest-"
Mr Cameron: To be fair, everyone is saying, "Let’s have an energy mix." This shouldn’t be seen as renewable versus gas, or nuclear versus renewable. It is all of them. We need to have renewable, nuclear and gas. As I say, though, the key question that no one can fully answer about gas is, if you knew how well carbon capture and storage would go, then actually how much gas you have wouldn’t really matter, because it would not be contributing to carbon.
Q37 Mr Yeo: We cannot bet our policy on the assumption that CCS will be available, however. Obviously, we hope it will.
Mr Cameron: Those arguing for a firm decarbonisation target are betting that carbon capture and storage is available. If not, you are in quite serious water, because you would be only relying on nuclear and renewables. If carbon capture and storage didn’t come forward and you had a very tough carbon target, you would have no unabated gas at all.
Q38 Mr Yeo: Well, there is another area that needs a bit more attention; that is on the demand side and the greater priority that should be attached to energy efficiency. In conclusion, would you now make a speech that positively champions the economic advantages as well as the environmental ones, and the employment potential, of leading Britain towards a low-carbon future? A key part of that process will be making this the most energy-efficient economy in the world.
Mr Cameron: I do support further steps on energy efficiency and the green deal is an enormous commitment by the Government to help bring that about. In most areas of policy, politicians are accused of making too many speeches and not actually doing anything. I think in this area of policy, we’ve got the opposite problem. We have actually got, as I hope I have described, a very aggressive, very progressive, very forward-looking green energy policy. We now need to get out there and sell it. The policy, I now think, is fixed; it is now a question of getting out there and advertising, not just domestically but internationally, because there is an enormous opportunity for green investment, green jobs and green technology here in Britain.
Q39 Joan Walley: Prime Minister, you talked earlier about it being substance that matters and not wanting to have anything that is superficial. Before the general election there was a very clear picture of you with the huskies and everything that you were going to do on climate change and so on, yet halfway through this Parliament, although we have just had some indication of your energy policy, when we have seen how important it is that we get a clear picture, we do not seem to have the same clear picture of your vision for the green economy as a whole. We have seen this week the findings about the reduction in farmland birds and obviously the bees are in trouble, so how is your vision being developed?
Mr Cameron: First, the Government have done a serious amount of work on this. I think we are the first Government to produce a serious paper on the natural environment. As I have said, we have been very clear about what we are doing in terms of green energy. We have the Green Investment Bank. If you look at the results of where we are in terms of reducing our carbon emissions, and in terms of the framework for further reductions, that is all in place. Carbon emissions are down since 2010. We are on target to meet our renewable energy targets. We are on target to reach our carbon reduction targets, which were set out in the Climate Change Act. I would argue the vision is all there. This is a very green Government. We have been wrestling with huge problems of debt, deficit, economic growth and all the rest of it. If the argument is about whether we should spend some more time talking about this area, then, yes, I would accept that.
Q40 Joan Walley: I think the argument is, should not the Government be spending more time actually doing something about it? Back in August 2011, the Government published the "Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy" document. That was a lengthy document, with many descriptions of what industry could do, but with very little on how it would be achieved. If we need incentives or targets, that needs to be right the way across Government and particularly in the Treasury. It just seems to us that your strategy really is just leaving it to the market to determine the price of the green economy.
Mr Cameron: I do not know how you can possibly say that the strategy is leaving it to the market when we have set out-as I have said, what other business can you think of in the world where-I can tell you now how much money you will get for every investment you make up until 2017! This is an enormous incentive. That is why we have got the biggest offshore wind market anywhere in the world-because actually we have said there is a very clear framework. We know that we have to green our electricity supplies. We know that we need a massive investment in green technology and that is taking place because of the big decisions that we have taken about the overall framework. So I would reject the idea that this is sort of, "Let’s just wait and see-let’s hope for the best."
If you think about Government, we said we were going to reduce our own energy consumption by 10% and we outperformed that in the first year. We then set a whole paper of targets-what we were going to do about paper usage, water usage, electricity usage and all the rest of it, even flights. We said, "We have got to take our greenhouse gas emissions down 25% by 2015," and we are on track to do that. We have cut the number of flights the Government are taking by 36%. There has been a 5% reduction in waste-
Chair: Thank you for not going to Oslo.
Mr Cameron: The Deputy Prime Minister went instead, so we didn’t save a whole plane, but we made it a bit lighter, I suppose.
Q41 Joan Walley: The Deputy Prime Minister went to the Rio+20 conference, but he still has not yet been prepared to come back before the Environmental Audit Committee to give a clear account not only of what happened, but of how it is being followed forward. So it seems that there is not a connection between you and him on the way in which priority has been given to the green economy.
Mr Cameron: Well, I will take that on board, and perhaps he could come in front of your Committee. I know that one of the points of this Committee is to try and see what the involvement is of No. 10 and what we are trying to do. Inevitably, when the focus is so much on debt, deficit, economy, growth and jobs, I actually see that there is a huge connection between those things and green technology, green investment and the rest of it, but I think that the Government have just been very focused on that. Meanwhile-after some discussions, I accept-we have actually put in place a very progressive set of green policies. We now need to demonstrate that they cohere and hold together, which I think they do.
Q42 Joan Walley: But even the CBI says that the Government’s current approach is missing the mark, doesn’t it? That is particularly linked to the-
Mr Cameron: I think they might have said that before the Energy Bill was published. They very much welcomed the Energy Bill. They think that is a good-
Q43 Joan Walley: But isn’t there an issue with the Energy Bill, and just now with the autumn statement? Yes, gas has to play some transitional role as we move towards the long-term carbon objectives and targets, but if we invest too much in gas now, we are moving away from the truly sustainable path that we need to be on.
Mr Cameron: I think we don’t know that yet. I think that-
Q44 Joan Walley: But how long can we wait?
Mr Cameron: We don’t know how profound this gas revolution is. As I have argued, I think this is a very green Government, and I think we are fulfilling our commitments. The debate I would have right now with the some in the green movement is that some in the green movement really want us to rule out gas, effectively, in a meaningful way. They want us to opt right now for nuclear, plus renewables, plus energy efficiency. Zip-that’s it. I think that would be a mistake.
It may be that this gas revolution is really quite transformative and there is going to be a lot more gas, and the price won’t be as expensive as some people say. Now, that may be true; that may not be true. We just don’t know. Even the expert committees cannot tell us for certain. But I think it would be a big risk to just ignore what is happening in the gas market, so the Government have a very sensible approach. We have set out the subsidy regime for renewables and we have set out the policy approach for nuclear, but on gas we should have an open mind, and we should take part in fracking and unconventional gas, because this might be a revolution that we should be involved in. If we ignored it completely, we could be giving our economy much higher energy prices than are otherwise necessary.
This is important, because America’s success in unconventional gas is giving them very low energy costs and actually cutting their carbon at the same time, because they are using gas rather than coal. They are therefore seeing their country reindustrialise. When I think of constituencies such as Stoke-on-Trent North, which you represent, I want to make sure that we have a bigger manufacturing industry-that we are involved in making, selling and exporting more things. If we tie ourselves to unnecessarily expensive energy policies, we would be making a mistake. I think there is no contradiction in being green in terms of energy and wanting to encourage these energies of the future, but having an open mind on gas.
Q45 Joan Walley: I hope that means, in terms of the investment needed for the industrial and manufacturing sector, that Stoke-on-Trent will be high on your agenda.
Mr Cameron: It is. I am the first Prime Minister to go there since Mrs Thatcher.
Q46 Joan Walley: I shall wait to see the proof of the pudding. May I ask what regard you have to the precautionary principle in taking forward the green agenda?
Mr Cameron: What regard I have to the precautionary principle? I think that it should inform what we do, as has always been set out by Governments.
Q47 Joan Walley: So you believe in that?
Mr Cameron: Yes, I do.
Q48 Miss McIntosh: Prime Minister, which do you consider more important in setting Government policy-sustained economic growth or protecting the environment?
Mr Cameron: I think they go together. The whole point about sustained economic growth is that it should be sustained and sustainable. I would argue that if you look at the worst examples of environmental degradation, they normally happen in countries that actually aren’t growing. I will never forget going to East Germany when the wall was still there and seeing the effects of unsuccessful state-controlled economic policies without much growth but terrible environmental degradation.
Q49 Miss McIntosh: Yet you and the Chancellor have both said that protecting the environment is a barrier to economic growth.
Mr Cameron: I don’t think I quite put it like that, actually.
Q50 Miss McIntosh: Well, will you confirm today that you have abandoned, or not abandoned, the principle underlying the natural environment White Paper that "natural environment is the foundation of sustained economic growth"?
Mr Cameron: I am absolutely committed to that. As I say, I don’t think there is a contradiction-we will have to make sure that there isn’t a contradiction between healthy economic growth that provides wealth and jobs, and a healthy, sustainable environment.
The argument we have been having in Government-and I think it is a good argument-comes back to this issue about form over substance. I think sometimes what we have found is that there are environmental restrictions placed on investment and growth that are definitely stopping the growth, but it is not absolutely clear that they are essential for protecting the environment. For instance, when it comes to the planning system, the system has got very furred up by the huge numbers of statutory consultees and the endless process of consultation. I don’t actually think this in every case is protecting the environment; it is just stopping the development taking place. What you need is a system that can move more rapidly.
Q51 Miss McIntosh: So can you give an example of Government Departments positively demonstrating the value of services in the environment, like payment for ecosystem services, that formulate their decisions?
Mr Cameron: I can give you examples of environmental policy driving growth. If you look at DECC you have got this subsidy regime for renewable energies; that is encouraging investment. That is clearly green and it is growth. But I can also give you examples where projects are held up because of environmental processes or the EU habitats directive, where the problem can be solved but it is put into the "too difficult" box.
There is the case of dredging Falmouth harbour, for instance. We actually now raise these things at Cabinet level, in order to try and get Departments to bring up things that they are blocking and explain why they are blocking, and see whether we can find a way through it. There are certain road, rail and building projects that have been held up under environmental legislation when, when you look at it, it is not really about environmental protection but about a sort of process that needs to be dealt with. We won’t be the successful economy we need to be unless we get through some of these processes a bit faster.
Q52 Miss McIntosh: Let’s look at what you said about the water sector. You said this year that investment in the water sector is the gold standard for harnessing private capital in utilities and improving infrastructure. Yet when the Government published the draft Water Bill there was precious little clarity on upstream competition, or even resilience, which was there as a plain as a pikestaff in the White Paper. Huge discretion is given to the regulator which, in one view, is placing the industry’s reputation as a safe haven for investment at risk.
Mr Cameron: That is a very good question. I think at the moment you are carrying out the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. First, let’s rewind a bit. I think the water industry is a great example of a utility which, because it was privatised, we were able to get massive investment into it. It is something like £108 billion of investment. If that had been queuing up behind the NHS, pensions and schools and everything else, it never would have had that investment. That is a very successful model and I don’t want to do anything to disadvantage it.
The point of the Water Bill is to encourage further investment into the water industry, so we will look very carefully at what your Committee has to say. I think there is a basic difficulty about this. If you want everything written into the Water Bill about what a more open market could look like in water and greater choice for businesses and charities and so on, if you try to write down what a market looks like, you can get yourself into quite a lot of trouble, because the point is that you want this market to develop. But I am very alert to the problems you mention, particularly the problem of doing anything that might put off investment.
Q53 Miss McIntosh: Would you not accept that it was possibly a good reason to delay, for example, a massive housing development on a greenfield site going ahead if water companies said that they could not safely take the foul water away in times of a high water table and saturated farmland, so it would back up into people’s homes? That has happened twice in North Yorkshire this year.
Mr Cameron: Of course, I think there have been occasions when buildings have gone ahead on floodplains without proper measures being put in place. We can all think of examples of that. My point is not that you shouldn’t take into account environmental consequences when making planning decisions-you should-but we’ve got to find a way of making this process go at some reasonable speed.
Q54 Miss McIntosh: If you look at the Government’s climate adaptation policies, how can we make the best use of the experts, the charities, industry, farmers in pooling their expertise and their resources in building flood alleviation schemes?
Mr Cameron: I suppose-I hope this is half an answer to the question-it seems to me that in the past, flood alleviation schemes either went ahead or didn’t go ahead, depending on the decision of the EA and the money available. Under the partnership schemes that we have there is now an opportunity to involve charities, voluntary bodies, local authorities and local communities, so that you can use some of the money and draw in other resources and other expertise in order that flood alleviation work goes ahead. So I am hoping that we will get more bang for our buck.
Q55 Miss McIntosh: When do you think we will know what the reservoir safety guidance is to allow these schemes to go ahead?
Mr Cameron: I think you’ve what’s known as got me with that one. I will have to get back to you on that.
Q56 Andrew Miller: You told me previously, Prime Minister, that you need to spend more time with your science advisers. You have just explained to us that these questions posed by my three colleagues are difficult balances to strike. I could not agree with you more. You talk also about targets that have been established in a number of areas. I take it that these targets are based upon the balance between the political realities and the scientific advice you have received. Is that right?
Mr Cameron: Scientific advice is fed into Government policy at the appropriate time. Every Government Department now has a scientific adviser. I encourage them to get stuck into the policy-making process. I think on occasion that has had very good effect. Sometimes, frankly, I think we need to do more. You don’t necessarily have to meet with your scientific adviser in order to get their advice. In the modern world, with e-mail and everything else, they are able to feed in their advice in other ways.
Q57 Andrew Miller: But you did tell me you were going to meet with them more frequently, but there you are.
Mr Cameron: Yesterday I went to Cambridge to announce this £100 million Government investment into helping to make us the leaders in sequencing DNA and making sure that we have a huge DNA databank that can give us a big advantage. That all came from a session with the Government scientists. They made the point that the NHS is a unique institution because it is national; if you want to leverage the benefit of that you need to invest in this DNA work. So what I am trying to say is that the views of the scientists are directly feeding into some very big investment decisions by the Government.
Q58 Andrew Miller: But specifically on the topic of green government, we have seen a number of policy shifts, on forests, on badgers, on buzzards, on renewable obligation banding review and so on. Let me just pick out one of them. I have spoken about it in the House. On the question of badgers, there has been a long study conducted by an eminent group of people led by my opposite number in the Lords, Professor John Krebs, Lord Krebs. He is saying that the Government’s current position is crazy and argues in favour of a policy that is based upon vaccine and bio-security measures. Why have you adopted an opposite policy to that?
Mr Cameron: In the end, we have listened to the scientific evidence and we have looked at the evidence from overseas and the trials carried out in the UK and made a decision. I would argue that it is a decision firmly based on the scientific evidence.
The randomised badger culling trial, we believe, demonstrated that if you culled over an area of 150 sq km, that could lead to a 16% reduction in TB incidents in the local area. I do want to be partisan about this, but when the previous Government were in office I felt that it was not about the science; Ministers could not make a decision on this because it would mean confronting difficult lobbies and taking a difficult decision. When you look around the world, as far as I can see, all those countries that have TB in cattle either have strict cattle movements or are involved in some element of culling parts of wildlife that pass TB to the cattle. In France it is wild boar, in Australia it is possums-I have got a list somewhere. The point is, we have looked at the science, we have looked at the evidence and we are prepared to take a difficult decision.
The reason why there was a change this year was that a new problem came along, which was a logistical problem. Were you going to be able to complete this properly before late autumn and winter set in? The people contracted to carry it out said that they could not. It was an NFU decision, which we accepted, so it was put off to next year. As far as I am concerned, it is a very difficult decision, and I know that it is deeply unpopular with many people because of their views on badgers and the rest of it, but as Prime Minister, I feel that we have to take action to deal with a serious problem; 26,000 cattle were destroyed last year, and this could go into billions of pounds if we do not deal with it.
Q59 Andrew Miller: Of course, it is a very serious problem.
Mr Cameron: That is why I think, having looked at the science, we have made the right decision.
Q60 Andrew Miller: But nevertheless, it is described as crazy by the lead expert in this field.
Mr Cameron: By an expert. There are other scientists who say that we are following the science. The NFU believe that this is absolutely the right policy.
Q61 Andrew Miller: Okay, well let us get to an area where we can reach some agreement. The RAC Foundation recently published a very good report on modelling future transport needs, which is incredibly important. A lot of the work that underpins that requires accurate understanding of what is happening to the human population, where we are living and so on, and information is currently collected through the census machinery. The Government are due to respond to the report we made on the future of the census, and the RAC Foundation told me-just this morning-that it would be virtually impossible to continue that kind of hugely important work, which underpins some of the work of my colleagues’ Committees, without ensuring that the data is protected in the future, and that the collection of the data continues. Will you look carefully to ensure that the collection of systematic data, which underpins important research, continues?
Mr Cameron: I know that it is a controversial decision, what we have said about the census. I am sure that Francis Maude, who has departmental responsibility for this, will look carefully at your report and what the RAC says. Perhaps I should not give an off-the-cuff response, but so much data is available about household information, car use and all the rest of it, and it is so much cheaper to collect and monitor that, that I would be surprised if it really was impossible to know about the movements of people, cars, population densities and all the rest of it-
Andrew Miller: Well-
Mr Cameron: But who am I to know? I will look at your report.
Q62 Andrew Miller: Finally, on to an area where perhaps we can agree. A lot of work has happened since the outbreak of Chalara fraxinea was identified, some of which leads to many questions on what happened in the past, but we all agree that the prime objective is to address the challenge and to stop the spread of the condition if at all possible.
Mr Cameron: Are we on-
Andrew Miller: Ash dieback
Mr Cameron: I just wanted to check in case it was some-
Andrew Miller: I beg your pardon-sorry, you drift into this. One aspect of data collection here is better engagement with the public. The idea of citizen science is not new, but this is an area where members of the public can collect hugely valuable data. Will you make sure that that kind of work being undertaken by organisations-supported by the Forestry Commission and the various key forest bodies, Kew Gardens and so on-is properly resourced? If we do not resource that kind of data collection, we are not going to understand fully the management of the spread of this disease.
Mr Cameron: I will look very carefully at that. My understanding is that there has been a lot of activity sponsored by DEFRA to map how far ash dieback has got and how serious it is. There is also this question, as I am frustrated that this disease was clearly sweeping across Europe: was there more we could have done earlier? I think we need really to examine whether everything that could have been done was done, but I will certainly look at the point you make.
Q63 Andrew Miller: We need fully to understand that many of these issues, such as bovine TB and zoonotic conditions like that-
Mr Cameron: With ash dieback specifically, I can totally see that you are never going to map it effectively unless you involve an enormous number of voluntary bodies, charities-
Q64 Andrew Miller: No. Finally, we need to work collaboratively not just with European colleagues but globally to understand fully where diseases come from. We are told that ash dieback originated probably in Japan or Korea, not in Poland, as our newspapers have suggested. Will you work collaboratively through the international bodies to make sure we get a better understanding of disease management in both plant and animal health?
Mr Cameron: Yes.
Chair: We need to move on, but it strikes me that it would be a rather nice memorial to Patrick Moore if we were to encourage citizen scientists.
Andrew Miller: He was on my side on badgers, by the way.
Q65 Mr Bailey: Prime Minister, earlier on you cited the Green Investment Bank as a demonstration of your Government’s commitment to greening the economy. It was launched in November, but cannot borrow to support its investments until Government debt as a percentage of GDP is falling. On the other hand, there have been other Government schemes, including the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012, which allows the Government to provide financial guarantees-in the latter case, up to £50 billion-right away.
Can you demonstrate your commitment to a green economy by evening things up? It would seem rather illogical, in view of the Government’s commitment to the green economy, to allow guarantees for infrastructure but not for green infrastructure.
Mr Cameron: That is a very good question. I think that there is a difference between the Green Investment Bank and the infrastructure guarantees. First, I am glad that the Green Investment Bank is up and running relatively quickly. These things do take time to set up: you have to have all the state aids and everything else in place. Because it has got £3 billion in its bank account, it does not need to borrow to start with.
I would argue-I think I am right in this-that the problem right now is not the shortage of borrowing available for green projects; it is actually the shortage of equity finance. The seedcorn money needs to go in to make some of these schemes attractive, and then you can lever in private sector or other money. I think it is good that the £3 billion is there. I do not think that the fact that it cannot borrow is essential in the early years.
That is different from the infrastructure guarantees, where, basically, what the Treasury is doing-something that people have asked the Treasury to do for decades, probably centuries, and it has always refused to do until this Government-is say, "Look, if there is an investment project that is basically ready to go, but because of financial uncertainty and all the problems in the world that we know about, it needs an infrastructure guarantee, the Treasury is in some circumstances prepared to give that guarantee." Of course, it could give that guarantee as well not just to roads and railways but maybe to a green investment project, so there is no restriction on Treasury guarantees being given to green projects.
There is a slight difference between the two: one is a new institution to put in seedcorn finance to get green investments going; the other one is a massive Treasury scheme to try to back investments that ought to be taking place but, in this rather fragile financial environment, are not because they need some form of guarantee.
Q66 Mr Bailey: With respect, Prime Minister, I do not think that you have fully explained why it should not have the right to borrow on the private market to do that.
Mr Cameron: I think it will in time. The point is that the Government must have an overall regard for the level of borrowing in the economy, so if you create a new institution that builds up debt, that will affect your deficit and debt position. My argument is that right now, the need for the Green Investment Bank to borrow is not really there, because it has the finance, the ability to go out and do deals, and the ability to leverage in private sector debt and that is what is most needed. If it did not have any money-
Q67 Mr Bailey: May I just quote to you the Green Investment Bank’s chief investment officer at the launch? He reported that there was a worsening slump in the long-term finance market, particularly in offshore wind and waste. Other banks are moving out. He said, "Our planning assumption is that that’s a permanent structural shift. It’s a huge challenge." Given the strategic importance in offshore wind, and you have quoted its role and Britain’s position in the world in developing it, you have the existing financial markets not providing for it. Surely it should be the role of the Green Investment Bank to do so, and yet without that ability to borrow on the private market, it is handicapped in doing so.
Mr Cameron: I hesitate to challenge the person you quote. I was recently in Abu Dhabi with a whole series of major investors from the UAE. They were all extremely keen to invest in offshore wind because they can now see that the subsidy regime has been set. I would challenge the idea that there is not the availability of long-term finance for these projects. I think that there is, and the figures for what has happened in terms of investment in renewable energy would back me up. We are on track to double our renewable electricity capacity from 8 GW at the end of 2009 to 16 GW by the end of 2012. Between April 2011 and July 2012, renewable industry announcements totalled around £12.7 billion. I do not think that there is either a shortage of investment coming in or a shortage of available loan finance, but I can go and check. It seems that the Green Investment Bank can play a role. Because it is a quasi-Government institution, it has the money in its kitty to go in and help make these deals happen.
Q68 Mr Bailey: Given the contradiction in the evidence that I have and what you tell me, I would be grateful for further clarification.
Finally, on something entirely different, you quoted the green deal. This is a report back from a company in my constituency. The implementation of it has been delayed twice. It was launched in October and, as of November, no assessments have been made and the funding is supposed to be finalised in January. There is a prevailing climate of doubt and uncertainty among the small businesses that will have to deliver it. Given the fact that they have to recruit, train and accredit people in order to deliver it, they are loth to do so in the current climate of uncertainty. Can you give absolute guarantees that this will go ahead in January and that the funding regime will be there, and will you clarify as a matter of urgency which schemes will qualify for finance?
Mr Cameron: What I would say-it is a good question-is that the funding is there. The plans for launch, progressively through 2013, are there. We have just announced £125 million of incentives for people taking up the new deal from January, which is a £1,000 cashback for making your home more energy efficient. It is a big scheme, so it is a big challenge to get it right. In terms of the role of No. 10, the Deputy Prime Minister and I have asked for presentations from energy and climate change Ministers to see how the plans are going. We have subjected the matter to external challenge. It is challenging getting people to look at energy improvements for their own home. It is an extraordinary thing. Even sometimes when you can prove to people that they will save money on their energy bill, there is a hesitation. We have to find ways of getting over that hesitation. We are very committed.
Q69 Mr Bailey: Will there be a public information campaign?
Mr Cameron: Yes, there must be.
Q70 Mr Bailey: And when will it be?
Mr Cameron: A very good question. I will have to get back to you on that. Basically, it is set for next year.
Q71 Mr Betts: On 28 November on "Newsnight", Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, said that it would be necessary to build around 3% extra on unbuilt land in this country in order to solve the housing problem. That is an area of land about twice the size of Greater London. Was the Minister on that occasion expressing something he thought might happen or would like to happen, or was it a clear expression of Government policy that to solve the housing crisis, that amount of land will now need to be built on?
Mr Cameron: I think the Planning Minister was trying to give an exemplification of the scale of the problem. Let me be absolutely clear: it is not Government policy to set a target for the percentage of land that needs to be built on. That 3% is not going to form a target-that is absolutely not the case. I missed the beginning of "Newsnight", I’m afraid to say, but I watched some of it, and Nick Boles was-rather effectively, I thought-making the point that, yes, we all want to see fewer empty homes, we all want to see more building on brownfield land and we all want to see the effective conversion of buildings that do not have other uses into dwellings, but that is not enough. He was making an honest and honourable point that if we want to build more houses in Britain-we have a massive housing shortage-we will, on occasion, have to build on greenfield sites and we will have to see planning permissions go ahead. I think that was the correct thing to say and we have to be honest about that.
Q72 Mr Betts: You referred earlier to the planning system being furred up. The Chancellor and others have said that it is an obstacle to growth. I might disagree with that, but the intention of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill is to remove those obstacles and get more planning applications approved, and therefore to allow more development to go ahead and to build on the sort of amounts of land that the Planning Minister referred to. Or are you saying that there is a problem of a certain scale, but you do not intend to build on enough land to solve the problem?
Mr Cameron: No, he was making the point that there is a problem that has to be dealt with: we are not building enough houses. It is absolutely clear that we are not building enough houses. Housing starts are up since 2009, so that is good, but we need to build more houses. Let me be absolutely clear: we do not have a target for the percentage of land that needs to be built on. What we are trying to do is twofold. First, we are trying to clean up and simplify the planning system, so we have taken the national policy planning framework from 1,000 pages down to 50 because we want a simpler system. We are also trying to localise the decision making far more, because the idea is that communities should be able to design their own neighbourhood plans.
How do you really deal with this problem? When you talk to people in villages and towns, they say, "On the one hand we want more homes for local people to live in, but on the other hand we are very worried about over-development in the area." How do you solve that problem? Our answer is that you solve the problem by taking the decision making down to the neighbourhood and giving neighbourhoods greater ability to determine how many houses, of what sort and for whom.
I get this representing a rural constituency. If people felt that there would be 10 or 20 extra houses in the village and they would have a real say over where they are, they might go for that. The fear is that an enormous housing estate is going to land, as if from Mars, and people do not really have any choice about it.
Q73 Mr Betts: But in reply to Anne McIntosh earlier when you talked about the planning system being furred up, you said that the problem was the number of statutory consultees and the amount of consultation. Is Government policy really that there is too much consultation in the planning system, and that all the local people who want a real say about what happens in their area should have less say in the future?
Mr Cameron: No, no, that’s-
Mr Betts: Those were the words you used.
Mr Cameron: Very good; you ought to be a barrister. The point I am making is that there is an enormous amount of form here, rather than substance. Of course people have got to be consulted about planning. Our argument is that it should go down to the neighbourhood level. People should have a far greater real impact. At the moment, we have a lot of rather phoney consultation. You must know, Clive, from your long experience in politics, that there is a lot of consultation in which papers are issued and views are sought, but that is not really what it is about.
Q74 Mr Betts: I think this is a real problem for any Government, and I support the localist intention and direction, but what happens when we have local plans across the country that reflect local views about whether houses should be built or whether there should be onshore wind farms, and the Government have national requirements to meet climate change targets-presumably onshore wind is still an important part of that-and need to see houses built to meet requirements there? What is the Government’s policy and approach to ensure that when you look at the local plans collectively across the country, they add up to sufficient development to meet the national housing targets and the national climate change targets?
Mr Cameron: That is a very good question. I would turn the argument completely the other way around. There was a time when we had national housing targets, regional plans and all this top-down infrastructure. Did we build the houses we needed? No, we did not, because actually there was no incentive for local-
Q75 Mr Betts: We built a few more than we are building now, actually.
Mr Cameron: By the end of your party’s Government, we were hardly building any houses at all. In my constituency in west Oxfordshire, which I would argue is one of the most beautiful environments in the whole country, we are actually building more houses at the moment than required under the old top-down plan, because we have a very good local authority that consults local people, makes the most of exception sites and all the rest of it. It can be done. I just happen to believe that we are more likely to build the houses if we have a simplified national system and more local decision making, rather than what we had, which was a very top-down system.
On the issue of onshore wind, I do think that we need to have a system where we look at more community benefit. That is what we are consulting on at the moment because I think, again, that if communities can see there is actually a benefit for them, you have a better chance of people saying, "Well, I’m happy for this to go ahead."
Q76 Mr Betts: And yet the Growth and Infrastructure Bill potentially takes those very powers away from the local council that can be influenced by the local community, and transfers them to the Planning Inspectorate in certain circumstances.
Mr Cameron: There are national requirements in planning; we have to make sure that we build power stations and big infrastructure, of course. But, in terms of housing, as I said, I think that neighbourhood plans will enable communities to feel much more content that expansion can go ahead in a way that they feel comfortable with, but time will tell.
Q77 Sir Malcolm Bruce: Prime Minister, you are co-chair of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda. The first full meeting has taken place in London; I think that the next one is in Indonesia.
Mr Cameron: The next one is in Monrovia, actually.
Sir Malcolm Bruce: Oh, it’s in Monrovia-right. The one after that must be in Indonesia.
The point is that you have said that you think that the objective we should be looking for post 2015 is the elimination of absolute poverty. Can I clarify that you do take that view?
Mr Cameron: Yes.
Q78 Sir Malcolm Bruce: First, do you think you will be able to persuade other members of the panel of that? Can you both define what you mean by the abolition of absolute poverty and say when it might be achieved, given that at the moment we talk about a dollar and a quarter or a dollar and a half? Clearly it needs to be more than that, and clearly it needs to be more than about just money if it means what it means. Poverty isn’t just about money; it’s actually having access as well.
Mr Cameron: First of all, I think that the strength of the MDGs was that they were relatively simple, straightforward, measurable things that people could get a hold of, and the idea of halving-as they did-the number of people whose income was less than a dollar a day was something that you could check up and ask, "Well, how have we done?" Actually, the great thing is that that has been achieved before 2015. So the idea of trying to eliminate absolute poverty in a generation is something that I think is achievable. Under the last set of goals, we made a big step towards it. I would argue that, for this particular goal, you probably do need to stick to a monetary target, because otherwise it will be rather difficult to measure. And while, of course, this is all imperfect, the measure of $1.25 a day is now the accepted measure of what is sort of the absolute poverty line.
This is not the only thing we are hoping to achieve with this high-level panel. When Ban Ki-moon asked us to do is this, he said, "Look, here we are, we’re nearly at 2015. Here are the millennium development goals. What should the task be for the world in the period after 2015? How are we going to challenge ourselves to do something as great as the millennium development goals?" Being a practical person, my approach is to say, "Well, let’s first of all have an exciting goal that everyone can get behind"-I think that’s eradicating extreme poverty in a generation, which I think can be done. But then let’s take the millennium development goals and ask a pretty simple question: what do we want to keep, what do we want to change and what do we want to add? That should be the real work of this high-level panel-to try to come up with something simple and inspiring for the next period to say, "Right, here are the things that we want to try and do to tackle extreme poverty in our world and improve development and life chances."
Q79 Sir Malcolm Bruce: Obviously, it is dramatic that you’re saying that we can effectively make history poverty within a generation, but you have also highlighted the importance of what you call the "golden thread" of governance-related issues. You have actually defined them differently on different occasions, I notice. On one occasion it was "access to markets, property rights, private sector investment", and in New York in March 2012, it was "stable government, lack of corruption, human rights, the rule of law, transparent information".
Mr Cameron: But they are the same sort of things. You’re making a good point-
Q80 Sir Malcolm Bruce: The point is that people are saying that they are fine, in themselves, but they are rather selective. Indeed, some people are suggesting-and I don’t think that is the intention-that if they are not ideological, they kind of lean in one direction. Do you accept that there is maybe scope for defining them, and indeed possibly improving them in order to get real support?
Mr Cameron: Yes, I am sure there is. I would reject the idea that this is ideological-
Sir Malcolm Bruce: I didn’t say it was, but some people are suggesting that.
Mr Cameron: I will take the opportunity to reject it anyway, on the basis that if we look at poverty in our world, we have clearly got some countries that are being very effective in taking people out of poverty as their economy grows, but we’ve got some countries where we’ve got really entrenched poverty and where not much progress is being made, and my argument would be that that is because of a complete lack of a golden thread. There is war, corruption, corrupt government, no existence of markets, no ability to have any right of ownership of anything, no ability to get your produce to market and no ability to improve your life. I think there is a golden thread that links all those things: the absence of war, the absence of corruption, the presence of the rule of law, decent government and markets that work. Those things, which we take for granted here, by and large, just simply don’t exist in some of these countries, so it seems to me that when we write the next set of millennium development goals, or whatever we are going to call them, if we just look at absolute poverty, the number of people in school, maternal health-these very, very important things-we are missing a big part of the picture, which is those things that really help countries and people to go from poverty to wealth.
When you ask people in some of the poorest countries, "What do you most want in the world?", you are expecting to hear, and you often hear, "A meal; a job," but you also hear, "I want some justice. I want an end to this corruption I am having to deal with." People feel that very, very strongly, and I think we will fail unless we try and reflect some of that in the work we do.
Q81 Sir Malcolm Bruce: The point that people are making is that you are describing a situation when you have achieved the right scenario, but not everybody started in that situation. If you are a poor person living in a country that doesn’t have any of those things, for it to be meaningful, you have to say what we should do about it. May I just point to something said by Professor Lawrence Haddad, who is the head of international development studies at Sussex University? He says that he thinks your golden thread has real merit, but he suggests that it would be improved if you also included empowerment, fairness and collectivity. He argues that if you put those together, it would be a much more balanced framework. I think it is important from your point of view, if the golden thread is going to be the Cameron legacy, that it does actually have that broad basis of support.
Mr Cameron: I think that that is a very fair point. The guru I am particularly influenced by is Paul Collier, who wrote The Bottom Billion and very good books about tackling poverty in Africa, really focusing on the problems of conflict, corruption and injustice. I will look very carefully at what you say, but I also think that this is good because this is an agenda that is not just rich countries talking to poor countries. This is an agenda that we should be involved in, too. If we have proper transparency in tax and proper transparency in extractive industries, we have to get our own house in order as well as asking countries and Governments in the poorest parts of the world to do the same. So it is right it involves us and them. It is not just about money, and also to all those taxpayers who wonder, "Are we right to meet our goals in terms of aid?", which I believe we are, I think it demonstrates that we recognise this is not just about money. You will never, as a country, succeed unless you deal with the problems of conflict, injustice and rights.
Q82 Sir Malcolm Bruce: So when the work of the high-level panel is complete, will you, David Cameron, continue to champion that cause?
Mr Cameron: Yes, I hope that we are going to be able to come up with something that is simple, sellable and that can inspire people. The easiest thing in the world is to sit on one of these UN panels, take the millennium development goals and then produce something incredibly complicated. Frankly, I think that is the danger, because everyone wants to add something into this process-more on the environment, more on sustainability or more on education. You can think of a million things to add. We’ve got to try and find a way of describing a simple set of things.
Q83 Sir Malcolm Bruce: Most people can’t remember eight. Don’t add more.
Mr Cameron: Well, exactly. That’s the challenge, but that will be tough.
Chair: Prime Minister, thank you very much. We think there are issues coming up that would make it worth getting you to come in early in the new year.
Before I close the meeting, I would just like to place on record that this is the last meeting at which Kevin Candy, a member of our team, will be assisting us. He has done a great deal of the organisation for these sessions, so we would like to thank him for all his work for the Committee.
Mr Cameron: Thank you.
Chair: And thank you, Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron: Thank you very much.