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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble): About half the Afghan populationabout 9 million peoplerely on food aid, but a complete humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided through the efforts of the international community, which has provided more than £1 billion in humanitarian aid to the country since October last year. We now need to refocus our efforts so that we not only provide people with food, but ensure, in conjunction with the transitional Administration, that livelihoods and public services are restored and that the security sector is reformed.
Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. The leadership of her Department in this regard is widely acknowledged, but does she not share my concern that last month the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had to cut by two thirds food aid to returning refugees? There are worries that food rations might need to be stopped altogether in certain areas. What action will
Ms Keeble: We are pressing others to provide the aid that was promised to the country. We are also considering other factors, including what happens in the regions and security sector reforms, to ensure that food aid can get outnot only into Kabul, but throughout the countryside.
Ms Keeble: It is extremely important to ensure that women can play a proper role in the reconstruction of the country. The transitional Administration have made the education of women a priority, and women have acted independently in the Loya Jirga. We will monitor the situation closely to ensure that the commitment to appoint a women's Minister is carried out.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): What assessment has the Minister made of the ability to get all land back into productive use for agriculture next season, if not this season? What effect will that have on the need for humanitarian food aid?
Ms Keeble: The ability to get land back into productive use is important because approximately 85 per cent. of the population live in rural areas and rely on it for their food. There are perhaps two key factors: the administrative reforms that I mentioned, and ensuring that we encourage farmers to produce different crops instead of cultivating poppies. My Department is taking a lead on that.
5. Norman Baker (Lewes): What mechanisms exist for discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and Department of Trade and Industry collectively to resolve questions of common interest. 
The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): We have close dealings with other Departments at official and ministerial level on debt, International Monetary Fund and World Bank policy, conflict, trade policy, international environment agreements, agricultural and fisheries policy, money laundering, corruption and many other subjects.
Clare Short: I agree that it is worrying that there is a procedure for saying that it is a good idea to go ahead with a project when other Departments have not been informed. That does not commit us to the licence, but it is a strange procedure. We are reviewing the application of the sustainable development criterion. The question needs examining.
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): My right hon. Friend is aware of the impact of conflict on developing countries. The availability of small and large weapons plays a part in fuelling that conflict. The UK is one of the largest producers of weapons and therefore has a responsibility. What mechanisms exist whereby my right hon. Friend can engage in conversations with other Departments to ascertain what can be done to diversify away from that dangerous trade into more productive trades? [Interruption.]
Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right. However, there are responsible arms sales. For example, South Africa has equipped itself to help resolve conflicts in Africa, and that is desirable. Arms can therefore be sold responsibly, but they can also clearly be sold irresponsibly. When he was Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House negotiated with other EU member states a tightening of standards for licensing applications. That process is beginning to flow through, including a new control on arms sales that might damage sustainable development. The application of that rule is currently being reviewed. We are making progress, and there is room for more.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Given the generally effective way in which the Department has come to work over the years with the Ministry of Defence, to the great advantage of delivering aid to those who most need it, will the right hon. Lady consider developing with her colleagues in the EU a system of best practice whereby Ministries of Defence in other European countries adopt the same method of operating?
Clare Short: We work well together when the Army is in developing countries and can help to stabilise matters, get schools working and re-establish other aspects. It is also important to work together to reform the security sector in badly governed countries so that people have peace, order and stability, which contribute to the development of the economy. We have worked closely with the Ministry of Defence on that. A good example is Sierra Leone. I have held discussions with the NATO leadership about the way in which we might spread such good practice throughout NATO. I shall keep the hon. Gentleman informed of progress.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble): The Government are strongly committed to working to combat HIV/AIDS, and provided more than £150 million for programmes in southern and western Africa last year. We continue to work with the Governments of developing countries, and other bodies, to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to help those affected by it. We need to replicate the progress that has been made in Uganda, where the prevalence of the disease has been more than halved in the last decade.
Mr. Davidson: Does the Minister accept that the scale of the problem is enormous, and that the resources required are substantial? If Britain and other countries are to be expected to play their part in fighting this evil, we must also ensure that governance in these areas of Africa is improved. Will the Minister tell us what steps are being taken to ensure that money given to fight AIDS is not being siphoned off or stolen?
Ms Keeble: My hon. Friend is right about the scale of the disease, and about the related problems. Each year, 2.3 million people die of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. While it is extremely important that we ensure that there is good governance, so that all the money that goes into fighting AIDS is spent properly, we do not at present have any evidence of the kind of problems that my hon. Friend mentioned. If he would like to provide me with any such evidence, I will certainly make sure that it is looked into, because we want to ensure that all the money goes into AIDS prevention and into treating the people who suffer from the disease.
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): Mr. Speaker, I have been asked to reply. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] If I may continuemy right hon. Friend the Prime
Mr. Cook: If I may continue, Mr. Speaker. Today, the summit will discuss world terrorism and proliferation. Tomorrow it will discuss how it can help to promote development and prevent conflict in Africa.
Mr. Prosser: On the day that marks international drug abuse and trafficking day, will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the hard-working people in Dover and elsewhere who police our borders and who have contributed to the year-on-year increase in the number of seizures of illicit drugs?
Last week marked the second anniversary of the tragic discovery of 58 Chinese people found dead in a container in Dover. What progress have the Government made on cracking down on the evil people-smugglers and on improving border security on the other side of the channel?
Mr. Cook: There can be no greater menace than those who make large profits out of trading on the misery and desperation of others. That is why we hope shortly to introduce proposals that will increase sentences for those who trade in human beings. We made good progress at the Seville summit on getting agreement on joint action[Interruption.] Indeed, we didto ensure that we take forward our joint policing into those areas of entry. The measures that we have taken in Bosnia, for example, have been dramatically successful, and have contributed to a 90 per cent. reduction in the number of people being trafficked by organised gangs.
On my hon. Friend's point about the United Nations drugs day, we fully support the initiative by the UN, and the strategy of taking action on both supply and demand. My hon. Friend has already given the House figures on our success in cutting supply, and the whole House will want to congratulate the police and customs on their progress in seizing an extra £140 million worth of drugs in the past year. On the action against demand, we have doubled the amount of money available for treatment of those who abuse drugs, and we are on target to get the majority of drug abusers into treatment by next year. That is a solid achievement[Interruption.] I would hope that the whole House, including Opposition Members, will recognise that drug addiction is not only tragic for the individual but a menace to the community, and that we must give it a high priority.
Mr. Forth: When the Chancellor hit pensions with his £5 billion a year tax, he said that it was justified because of the buoyancy of the stock market. Last week the Prime Minister said that the stock market was
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend was absolutely right in the statement that he made. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman requires a lecture on this from me. The nature of the financial markets is that they go down as well as up. Stock markets around the world have been going down in the past 48 hours. There is no way in which any Government can insulate their stock market from that effect.
What is the right hon. Gentleman asking us to dobring in price controls on stock exchange movements? I am surprised that the stock market going down should come as a revelation to him. Surely he must remember that during the Conservative years the stock market collapsed several times, and the change over the past few days is still only a quarter of what occurred in the worst week in the Conservatives' 18 years.
Mr. Forth: When I question the Leader of the House at business questions, he is normally remarkably honest and straightforward with the House. In fact, on occasions he has even apologised to the House when he has been mistaken. What is it about appearing at the Dispatch Box at this time of the week that renders him unable to give a straight question? [Interruption.]
Mr. Forth: This is my first, and probably only, Prime Minister's questions. I was about to say that the Leader of the House may be representing the Prime Minister but he does not have to impersonate him. The fact is that the stock market today is almost 5 per cent. below where it was when the Chancellor first hit pensions. I shall give the Leader of the House another chance. When the Prime Minister said that the stock market was "massively up", was he right or was he wrong?
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend was absolutely right. [Interruption.] I am not clear what other answer Conservative Members were expecting. My right hon. Friend was right with reference to the period from the general election to the time when that question was asked last Wednesday. As I said, stock markets went down even more spectacularly under the Conservatives. The difference is that, at the present time, we have a sound economy with the lowest inflation for 40 years, the lowest interest rates for 50 years, and 1.5 million more people in work. On all those points it is better now than on any single day during 18 years of Conservative Government. If the right hon. Gentleman does not find that good enough, what heights of new rhetoric can he scale to describe the appalling record that his party had in Government?
Mr. Forth: Well, the Leader of the House really does have a touch of the Prime Minister today. The truth is that the Prime Minister was wrong, we know he was wrong, and what is more important, pensioners know he was wrong. The sad truth is that shares in pension funds have lost a fifth of their value as a result of the Government's pensions tax, and that is more than four times the fall in
Mr. Cook: I am astonished at the right hon. Gentleman's brass neck. I most certainly will not apologise for the Government's record on pensions. Next April, the average pensioner household will be £22 a week better off than under the Conservative party. We have increased pensions by double the level of earnings, whereas the Conservatives cut them behind earnings. We have provided a pensioner tax credit that increases the incentive for those who want to save, and will reward pensioners who have a little bit extra income from savings, whereas the Conservative Government continually penalised them by introducing a means test. I will most certainly not apologise to pensioners for our record.
When the right hon. Gentleman next comes to the House, he may, because of his own special brand of compassionate conservatism, like to tell us how he will fill in the form from the Leader of the Opposition inviting him to spend a week with vulnerable people in his constituency. I should appreciate it immensely if he could tell us which week it will be and whether I can come, so that I can hear him explain to the vulnerable in his constituency how the last Conservative Government doubled unemployment, doubled homelessness and trebled the number of children in poverty. One week will not wipe out the memory of 18 years.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle): In the light of recent serious public information about the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, will the Prime Minister and the Government respond positively to the Finucane family's request for a special inquiry into that terrible murder?
Mr. Cook: I know that this is of serious concern to the hon. Gentleman's constituents and his community. He will be aware that two investigations are in progress. Sir John Stevens has been appointed by the United Kingdom Government to conduct one of them, and we have also agreed with the Irish Government on a joint inquiry led by Mr. Justice Cory of Canada. Should Mr. Cory recommend a public inquiry, we will of course implement that recommendation.
I made it plain to the House during business questions that I spoke as an individual, not on the Government's behalf; but I say now that the Government have absolutely nothing to apologise for in regard to their record on donations. We have indeed been open and transparent, and we still look forward to the Conservative party's response to my repeated challenges to publish the names of those from whom it received donations during its years in government.
Mr. Tyler: Should not the Government have a policy on this issue? Is this not a matter of trust, given current concerns about the influence bought by, among others, Andersen, the owner of the Daily Express and the RMT? Do the Government not think it about time they settled the issue? Does the Leader of the House not recognise that the public think that when auditors, owners of major newspapers and major unions believe they are buying influence, it is time the Government had a policy so that trust could be maintained?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman has raised the precise point on which I have expressed concernthat although we have been impeccable in declaring and screening our donations, they are open to misconstruction. That is why I personally believe that putting the matter in the hands of the British electorate through public funding is the best answer.
The matter belongs to the British people, because it reaches fundamentally into the way in which their democracy is conducted. That is why it is right for the British people to decide, and why there should be a public debate.
I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that the RMT is buying any influence. Spectacularly, I myself have refused to accept the money on the basis of an oath of loyalty. So have a dozen RMT Members of Parliament, and so should any honourable Member of this free and sovereign Parliament.
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): Yesterday I received a distressing e-mail from my constituent Sue Brown, who is again under curfew in Bethlehem. Is she not right in saying that repeated Israeli invasions of the West Bank
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to a serious issue that is, I am sure, of concern to all Members. We warmly support President Bush's call in his speech the other day for a viable Palestinian state. The way to achieve that is through movement on both sidesan end to the occupation and the settlements on one side, and an end to terrorism on the other. Without both, we shall not see a successful return to the negotiating table. The future of both the people of Israel and the Palestinian territories depends on that return, because it is the only way in which we will achieve a secure and just peace.
Mr. Cook: If I remember correctly, the right hon. Gentleman had some responsibility for pensions during the previous Conservative Government. The electorate have already given their verdict on how he managed his stewardship of their pensions during his time in office and I am happy to put our records side by side. On the question of the withdrawal of advance corporation tax, the right hon. Gentleman is intelligent and well informed enough to know that that was done in order to ensure that we did not distort the tax system to encourage dividends rather than investment. He is a fair-minded man, so I am sure that he will be delighted to hear that that decision has succeeded and that investment in British industry is now £20 billion a year higher than it was under the Government of whom he was a member.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Will my right hon. Friend join me in offering condolences to the 2,500 UK workers of WorldCom in my constituency, whose jobs are now at risk as their company teeters on the edge of bankruptcya bankruptcy compounded by corporate greed and dishonesty and a $3.8 billion dollar fraud covered up by crooked accountants? Does he agree that it is high time we heard less bleating and whingeing from the corporate world about the burden of regulation and saw more effective supervision of international accountancy practices?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right to express the concern of his constituents about a matter that will be of grave concern for the economy of his constituency. On the issue of auditing standards and the quality of auditing, he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has already set up an inquiry to consider ways in which we can improve the quality of auditing standards and whether we can learn any lessons from what has happened on the other side of the Atlantic. I am sure that that inquiry will wish to consider the latest collapse as well as the Enron collapse. We expect the report in the summer and we will look closely at any action necessary and try to take it as quickly as possible.
Q3.  Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): Is the Leader of the House aware of the escalating problem of TB in cattle? In Gloucestershire, 1,500 whole-herd tests are yet to be carried outa backlog caused by the shortage of technicians and vets. That situation has been brought about by the 10 per cent. cut in the budget for tackling that problem. Will he do all that he can to persuade the Government to provide sufficient finance to tackle the escalating problem of TB in cattle and, more importantly, will he speed up the Government's investigation into the real cause of the spread of that disease?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman raises a matter that is of great concern to the farming community and which the Government take very seriously. I am slightly surprised that he should allege that the problem is exacerbated by a cut in funding. This Government have substantially
Q4.  Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber): Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the greatest challenge facing the international community is fighting global poverty, when 1 billion people exist on less than $1 a day? Is not the war on poverty the acid test of the G8 summit? Does The right hon. Gentleman also agree that in the future the culmination of success must be enhanced debt relief and fair aid and trade? What we need is a new Marshall plan for Africa.
Mr. Cook: I fully agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the issue. That is why the G8 summit will examine tomorrow how the world's wealthier nations can combat poverty, child mortality and illiteracy throughout Africa. The UK Government go to the summit with the strength of having increased by half, since the last general election, the amount of aid that we give. We have also just made a commitment that we will increase by another billion our aid to Africa. That reverses the cuts experienced under the previous Conservative Government.
It is right that the G8 summit should address the issue of world terrorism, but it is also important to bear in mind the fact that tackling world poverty can make an important contribution to that, as world poverty provides the breeding ground for terrorism and the recruiting ground for the fundamentalists.
Mr. Forth: That was a remarkably complacent answer. We have discovered the sad truth from the National Audit Office, and the Lord Chancellor's Department has admitted it, and it is that fewer than two thirds of fines are collected now, and that half of all uncollected fines are written off.
Mr. Cook: On the question of fines, we will study with care the forthcoming report from the Public Accounts Committee. I assure the House that there will be plenty of legislation, on the criminal justice and courts systems, in the next Session. That will enable us to address some of these issues.
Mr. Forth: How well the Leader of the House knows me. The answerand it will not give the right hon. Gentleman any pleasure to hear itis that 40,000 criminals failed to carry out their full sentence last year.
Mr. Cook: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his courage in choosing to go on crime. He will be aware that the British crime survey shows that the amount of crime has fallen by a fifth under this Government. The number of police officers is going up, and I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that is in stark contrast with what happened under the Conservative Government, who doubled the amount of crime, more than doubled the amount of violent crime, and saw police numbers fall in five successive years. When I get back to my office and look up the figures on those who have completed community service, I suspect that I shall find that they were even worse under the Conservatives.
Liz Blackman (Erewash): My local police have had reasonable success in targeting drug traffickers. Today, 1.5 tonnes of cannabis was confiscated, and five people were arrested. A little while ago, a large heroin organisation was busted, but the victims of addiction remain. Pursuant to the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser)that the amount in the drug budget devoted to support for victims has doubledwill my right hon. Friend undertake to keep the adequacy of the resources under review? Will he also monitor closely the pace at which new and more effective drugs are getting through to drug addicts?
Mr. Cook: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising, in her question, a very serious matter in a very serious and proper fashion. Of course, I give an undertaking that the Government will continue to make sure that we put in adequate resources to tackle the supply of drugs and to promote the cut in demand for drugs. We are confident that at present we are on course to achieve our target of getting 55 per cent. of drug users into treatment by 2004, two years from now. Obviously, we will keep the target under review. When we hit the target, we will want to go further, and I assure my hon. Friend that the matter will remain a high priority for the Government.
Q5.  Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Last week at his press conference, the Prime Minister attacked my constituents when, in response to their concerns about the proposed asylum centre at Throckmorton, he claimed that they wanted asylum seekers
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary appears to be having his own private exchange with Conservative Front Benchers on this matter. However, as he has quite properly pointed out, Conservative policy for a long time was to make sure that all asylum seekers would be detained.
Of course I understand local pressures and the difficulties in local constituencies, but it must be right to ensure that we provide centres that can offer all the services required by asylum seekers, such as proper education facilities for children, proper health facilities and an ability to be integrated, through language, with the local community. I appreciate the local pressures that these factors give rise to, but this is a national issue. It is important to ensure that we provide a basis on which to hold and handle those who seek asylum. It is a vast improvement on the attitude of the Conservative Government, which was to pretend that the policy was not there and let asylum seekers disperse across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Q6.  Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all those students who will be graduating from universities in the next few weeks? Does he agree that our universities play a massive role in achieving the knowledge-based economy and enjoy a fine reputation throughout the world? While I welcome the Government's commitment to 50 per cent. access for all young people, does he agree that such expansion will require adequate funding for research and teaching and a fair pay settlement for academic staff, as well as looking at the problem of student poverty, so that those who can benefit most from higher education are not deterred by unreasonable debts?
Mr. Cook: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. We have increased funding in higher education by a sixth. However, more important to the future of Britain as an economy and a country that can make its way in a highly competitive global economy is the fact that we now have one of the highest participation rates in higher education of any of the OECD countries, something of which we can all be proud.
Q7.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Is the Leader of the House aware that I was recently contacted by a constituent, Mr. Robert Blunden, whose wife sadly died of cancer last year? Her cancer specialist recently wrote to a national newspaper deploring the fact that he was prevented from using two new cancer drugs as the result of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence not permitting their use on the national health service. My question is simple: given the
Mr. Cook: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for our commitment to treating cancer. Indeed, we have increased the number of cancer specialists throughout Britain and are reducing the waiting time for treatment by them.
On the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I am absolutely confident that the Government were quite right to make sure that we put the decision on whether a drug should be prescribed on the NHS in the hands of NICE, which represents medical opinion. It is much better that such decisions are taken by medical experts than that they are taken by politicians. I shall, of course, consider the hon. Gentleman's point and make sure that the Secretary of State for Health writes regarding the membership of NICE; but on the fundamental principle, I think that it is much better for doctors to decide such matters rather than the hon. Gentleman and I doing so across the Floor of the House of Commons.
Q8.  Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife): Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the continued trend in the fall of unemployment, particularly since 1997? In Fife, especially in my constituency of Central Fife, unemployment fell by 14 per cent during that period, despite the dramatic loss of jobs in traditional industries. Will he join me in welcoming the many efforts made by unsung heroes who have contributed to this success, including Fife council, Scottish Enterprise Fife, and voluntary organisations such as the Leven development trust?
Mr. Cook: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all those who worked in the partnerships in Fife on making their contribution to cutting local unemployment. We should always remember that much
Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne): In response to the outrageous slur made by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, who said that she would not touch some comprehensive schools with a bargepole, and in fairness to the pupils, parents, teachers and governors of good comprehensive schools, will the Leader of the House name names and tell the House to which comprehensive schools the Secretary of State was referring?
Mr. Cook: What my right hon. Friend said in her speech was that she had taught for 18 years at a comprehensive, and would not have taught at any other type of school. I will not take criticism of my right hon. Friend from a Conservative party whose leader will not touch any state school with a bargepole when it comes to sending his children to school, and who has sent his children to Eton. Of course[Interruption.]
Mr. Cook: Of course not all comprehensive schools are as good as we would wish; that is why we have introduced a new deal for schools which has resulted in our being able to take out of special measures the majority of the failing schools that we inherited from the Conservative party. If I remember rightly, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was the Education Minister from whom we inherited them.