UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 709-iii

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

LIAISON COMMITTEE

 

 

THE PRIME MINISTER

 

 

Tuesday 4 July 2006

RT HON TONY BLAIR MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 314 - 461

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Liaison Committee

on Tuesday 4 July 2006

Members present

Mr Alan Williams, in the Chair

Mr Alan Beith

Malcolm Bruce

Sir Patrick Cormack

Mr John Denham

Mr Andrew Dismore

Mr Frank Doran

Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody

Mike Gapes

Mr Jimmy Hood

Mr Edward Leigh

Peter Luff

Mr John McFall

Rosemary McKenna

David Maclean

Andrew Miller

Mr Terry Rooney

Mr Mohammad Sarwar

Mr Barry Sheerman

Dr Phyllis Starkey

Mr John Whittingdale

Mr Phil Willis

Dr Tony Wright

Mr Tim Yeo

Sir George Young

 

________________

Witness: Rt Hon Tony Blair, a Member of the House, Prime Minister, gave evidence.

Q314 Chairman: May I welcome everyone, including the Prime Minister, to the ninth session. This time we have varied slightly in that we have four themes instead of three, and I am grateful to you for agreeing to that change. The themes, as usual, have been notified to the Prime Minister, but the individual questions have not. The four themes are: first of all, the Prime Minister's leadership style; secondly, the counter-terrorism strategy; thirdly, migration and population policy; and, fourthly, which I think is going to be a regular, ongoing item, is an international update, I think we describe it as because it will be quite wide-ranging. Those are the four subjects and we start with your leadership style as the Prime Minister. Can I remind you of a true incident I told you of a while ago. My first understanding of primus inter pares was when a colleague of mine was appointed Secretary of State for the first time, attended Cabinet and when it got to a very controversial area of debate, Harold went arund the table, listening to the voices, and at the end said, "Well, I think that's clearly carried". My colleague looked up and said, "I'm sorry, Prime Minister, but I have been keeping a tally and it was two against", at which point every other head, except hers and the Prime Minister's, dropped and stared at their pads, and Harold smiled at her sweetly and said, "I think you'll find my arithmetic is correct"! Do you run a democratic Cabinet or are you the one who does the arithmetic?

Mr Blair: Well, we have not actually had votes at the Cabinet, no, because I do not think it is probably a very good idea really, but of course you have a discussion on the issues that arise. In the end, it would be odd if the Prime Minister did not have a firm view as to what he thought was the right thing to do.

Q315 Mr Beith: It seems a good time to ask you, Prime Minister, have you changed the role of the Prime Minister in ways which would outlast you?

Mr Blair: No, I think everyone does it in their own way, and my general view of this is that you are accused of one of two things. You are either accused of being dictatorial or you are accused of being weak and you kind of pay your money and you take your choice with that, and occasionally both at the same time.

Q316 Mr Beith: Have you found it easier to get positive headlines out of announcing new laws, cracking down on crime, for example, than out of making sure that departments are actually run properly and administering laws they have already got?

Mr Blair: I have not found it easy for some time to get positive headlines through any route at all, to be blunt about it! No, I think it depends. In relation to the Home Office, and I am very happy to go into this, I think there are two views, if I am open about it. One is that actually legislation is not the answer and it is a system of management changes and the other, which is the view that I have, is that legislation is in part the answer and you need the management processes to go alongside that. No, it is not a question of whether it is positive headlines or negative headlines. The fact is that, particularly in the Home Office sphere, I think because of the way the world is changing so quickly and the nature of illegal immigration and crime is changing, then I think it is not surprising that you have had a lot of legislation. On its own, it is not the answer, but I would not want to be without any of the bits of legislation we have passed.

Q317 Mr Beith: But you are without quite a lot of the bits of legislation you have passed. A substantial part of the Domestic Violence (Crime and Victims) Act 2004 and 17 distinct parts of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are not in force yet. The High Court has commented on the fact that many of the Orders necessary to the 2003 Act are not in force yet and you are reviewing the Act anyway, so, far from being content with it, you are concerned, as I think a lot of people are, at the effect of the automatic third off for guilty pleas and the halfway mark for potential parole which has to be announced by the judge in passing sentence, so all this legislation you are very pleased about, a lot of it is not in force and some of it you are reviewing within a couple of years of it coming on to the statute book.

Mr Blair: Actually the bulk of it is in force and the main parts of it, for example, the indeterminate sentences, we are pleased with. It was an issue at the time, if you remember, about whether you got the automatic reduction in the sentence as a result of a guilty plea and actually the Government's view, I think, originally was that you probably should not if the person, as it were, was caught red-handed, and there was that whole debate around that. I think it was because of the Home Affairs Select Committee report actually which said, "No, you really should have it as automatic" that we then changed the law, but obviously time goes on and then concerns develop. If I look back on it, in relation to the 2003 Act I think it is quite a good example of it. I think the indeterminate sentences are working far better than the previous system. On the other hand, however, as we see from the concern about recent cases, with this area in particular, and I almost think it is kind of sui generis in terms of legislation, there is a constant need to go back and look again and review the legislation that is there because changes are happening so quickly in the way that these issues are developing, as I say, not just in our country, but actually throughout the whole of the Western world at the moment, so I think when you look at the Home Office, it is not a question of saying, "How do you get the right headline?", it is a question, however, of saying that there is massive public concern out there about aspects of the criminal justice system. I think you can track this back, and actually going back over the last 20 years there has been a lot of concern about the way the system works. Interestingly, I looked at the period before we came to office. I think we have had over 50 Home Office bills, but actually in the period before we came to office there were over 60, including 19 in the last session, so, if it is a feature or a characteristic of our Government, it has not been limited to our Government, but I suspect the actual reason is not to do with the particular Government, but it is to do with the nexus between the public concern and the very quick-changing nature of the problem we are trying to deal with.

Q318 Mr Beith: What I am suggesting is that you are afflicted with the same disease as your predecessors and that is the belief (a) that legislation on a continuing basis solves problems, and (b) that it is actually a good way of signalling to people and showing to people that you mean to do something about crime, and about a whole series of other things, including terrorism. Have you exaggerated the value of legislation and underestimated the problem?

Mr Blair: I do not think so because, as I say, when I look at the major pieces of legislation, and some of them are reasonably small pieces, but in the major pieces of legislation on anti-social behaviour, on proceeds of crime, on anti-terrorism legislation, on asylum and immigration, there is none of those bits of legislation I would want to be without. Each of them has made a difference. If you take anti-social behaviour legislation, until we started changing the law to give greater powers to the police at the front line, we did not really have the ability to make a big difference to this issue in local communities; we now do. If you take the Proceeds of Crime Act, if you were to talk to any of the senior police officers engaged in, for example, organised crime, they would all of them say that the Proceeds of Crime Act has been an important part of their being able to tackle organised crime effectively. If you look, for example, at the immigration and asylum legislation, there is still a huge issue out there incidentally on both of those questions. On the other hand, I do not think we would ever have got the massive reduction in asylum applications between a few years ago and today where last year we had the lowest number since 1994, I think, without the legislation. The one thing I am not saying is that legislation is the whole of the answer, but I in fact powerfully disagree with the view, although I know it is very commonly held, that legislation is not part of the answer. I think it is part of the answer and I think it is not surprising that the previous Government and this Government have been going back over this area and legislating again.

Q319 Mr Beith: Have you ever assessed what the impact on a department, like the Home Office, is of carrying through so many bills, preparing them, having a bill team to carry them through the House, working out implementation, trying to see them through into effect? The management time and the leadership effort which has to go into that legislative process is not being engaged in getting the Department running properly and that is presumably one of the reasons why the Home Office is not fit for purpose.

Mr Blair: I do not think that is the problem. I think the problem is, and it is a very good debate to have incidentally, but I am in profound disagreement with people who say that it is systems management in the Home Office alone that is going to solve this. If you take the issue to do with illegal migration and how you deport people, the fact is that the legal context within which immigration officers are working is of massive importance to them in how they are able to carry out their task. If the legislation is not helping them and backing them up, it is far more difficult for them then to remove people.

Q320 Mr Beith: But it was not the lack of legislation that stopped them even considering over 1,000 cases of prisoners leaving prison.

Mr Blair: I totally agree if you take the foreign prisoners case, that is a different issue, and certainly in most cases because it was not the legal inhibition there. However, foreign prisoners on any basis are actually not the whole of the problem. If you look across the piece in asylum and immigration, for example, before we introduced the non-suspense of appeals in the asylum legislation, it was very hard for us. We were having a struggle even to return people to countries that are now part of the European Union on the basis of asylum claims, so what I am saying to you is not that legislation is the whole of the answer, but I really do disagree with people who say that it is not a significant part of it. That is why I think it is important that we go back over legislation again and look at it and I think, whatever Government is in power at the moment, this debate about the laws will be important. There is another reason it is important, that it also does send a signal, and signals matter in this area. For example, on anti-social behaviour legislation, it has mattered that those signals of the strength of feeling and intent are there.

Q321 Mr Beith: Signals are no use if the administration does not back them up.

Mr Blair: Of course, that is absolutely right, but that is why I say you need both, you do not need one.

Mr Beith: Mr Willis has a point on this.

Q322 Mr Willis: Prime Minister, you must admit just in these four walls without anybody listening that you make exaggerated claims for legislation which have never been borne out in reality. If you take the 2001 Queen's Speech, you said you were going to transform secondary education and you introduced the 2002 Education Bill, to create earned autonomy for schools, there are going to be powers to innovate, and at the end of the first year three schools had applied to change the length of the school day. That was the total commitment and four years later you are actually introducing a new piece of legislation with exactly the same claims. Is it not that sort of keeping your ministers busy which worries us rather than actually moving forward in terms of a clear agenda?

Mr Blair: No, because again I do not agree that we have not introduced greater autonomy for schools. We have in relation to ----

Q323 Mr Willis: But that Bill did not, Prime Minister. Nobody wanted it.

Mr Blair: Well, you say that, but if you take the legislation we have just been discussing, in my view, that will make a significant difference to the way secondary education is run in this country.

Q324 Mr Willis: But the Bill failed in 2002. That is the point.

Mr Blair: I do not accept that it failed obviously because I think that the whole specialist school system which we are now building on with trust schools and city academies is a move to where schools specialise more and they have greater power over their own assets and the way that they run their school. I am not sitting here saying that legislation is the answer to everything. All I am saying is that legislation plays an important part and I think in relation to the Home Office, as education, I think, is somewhat different, but in relation to the Home Office I think it plays a very, very important part in enabling those at the front line to do their job properly.

Q325 Mr Beith: I am quite disappointed there because I thought you started trying to change the balance; I was hoping so. You wrote letters to all of these new ministers you appointed and you published them, telling them exactly what they were to do. There was more emphasis in these letters on actually running their departments, and this was a novelty. I do not think Clement Attlee ever found it necessary to send out letters to all his ministers, telling them what they were going to and publish them, but you did. Was that the beginnings of a recognition that it is no use passing legislation unless you actually run the country efficiently?

Mr Blair: Well, of course, in any department you have got to deliver the things you are supposed to deliver and departments sometimes do it well and sometimes do it badly, but I do not accept that legislation has not got a role to play. I think it is a somewhat false argument because we are suggesting you either go down this route or you go down that route. Now, I think, as I said to you a moment or two ago, that most of this discussion takes place around the context of the Home Office, most of it does, and all I am saying to you is that when I go through those 50-odd bits of legislation, I cannot think of one of those where I, as it were, say now, "I wish we hadn't bothered with that. It was no use", because I think in all these areas they have been important in enabling those people at the front line, the law-enforcement people, to do their job better. Is that a substitute for also having the right delivery mechanisms in the Department? Of course not, and one of the things that is changing the whole time in the Civil Service is a far greater focus on project management. Again if you take the Immigration Department, for the first time that Department is now removing more people than the unfounded asylum claims coming in. Now, that has been done by project management and by delivery systems being put in place by the Department.

Mr Beith: After nine years. It took nine years to get round to putting the emphasis where it needed to be placed.

Q326 Mr Doran: Back to criminal justice policy - it is quite clear that that policy is driven by you and that was underlined by the speech you made in Bristol a couple of weeks ago. That was a thoughtful speech and almost philosophical, I would say, but there is also a lot of exasperation in there. Are you frustrated at the response of particularly the legal profession and the judges to your policies?

Mr Blair: I think there is a culture in politics and in the legal profession that is totally understandable that fails to take account of the way the world has changed. I think you can see this very clearly in the circumstances where we discussed cases, for example, of the deportation of people we think are a threat to the well-being of this country. We take the view that basically the risk should remain with us in this country rather than with them if they come from outside our country and cause trouble. I think that is a system that needs rebalancing and I think you can go across the criminal justice system at the moment, and I have said this over many, many years which is one of the reasons for the legislation we have introduced, and at critical points of the system it does not come down on the side of the victim in the way that, in my view, it should do. I also think incidentally, which is why it is interesting to go back over the period of time before we came to Government, this is an argument that has been building in post-war society for about the last 20 or 30 years because community and social life has fragmented, crime has risen, you have got mass migration across frontiers, you have got organised crime that is of a different nature from anything 30 or 40 years ago, and the systems are struggling to keep up with it. The systems were born out of a period when there was rank injustice inside the criminal justice system, when people who were poor and oppressed were often the victims of the criminal justice system as defendants or as the accused, and I think the world has just changed and I think we have got to change with it. That is why I sometimes say that this is not an issue of liberty simply, it is also an issue of modernity. It is about the nature of the change and I still think that our political and our legal culture is behind the times in this.

Q327 Mr Doran: That sounds like your Bristol speech again.

Mr Blair: It is what I believe and I think it is an important debate to have in the country. I also think it is important that we, as law-makers, do not use one language when we are out talking to the media and another language when we are actually legislating in here.

Q328 Mr Doran: But what you are talking about now is cultural change and there was an important passage in your speech, or certainly which I think is important, where you said, "I have come to the conclusion that part of the problem in this whole area has been the absence of a proper, considered, intellectual and political debate about the nature of liberty in the modern world, in other words, crime, immigration, et cetera". If that is your view, why did we not have that debate nine years ago and it would have been possible perhaps then to get much more acceptance for the change that you want and we would have been able to legislate in a much more coherent, co-ordinated and strategic way?

Mr Blair: Well, it is not for the want of trying. The views I expressed in the speech in Bristol, it has not been a sort of cathartic process whereby I have suddenly come to a different view from the view I held previously, I have always held this view, but if you look back on the legislation that we have introduced over the past nine years, at each stage that legislation has effectively been diluted and watered down. That has happened and it has happened for perfectly understandable reasons, because people have said, "Well, this is a step too far". If you take, for example, the issue, which is a very controversial issue, but the issue to do with trial by jury in respect of serious fraud cases, there has been report after report done showing that, as a result of those trials taking place by jury, the cases take months and months and months, they cost millions of pounds and it is very hard for people to get prosecutions.

Q329 Mr Beith: But that is not what the report on the most recent case said. In fact the most recent case which you will be aware of, the Jubilee Line case, the report said that that conclusion could not be drawn.

Mr Blair: What the Jubilee Line case said was that, because of the very narrow way we had to put the potential piece of legislation, we could not put it before the House because of the controversy there has been, particularly in the House of Lords, about it. Because of the very narrow way we had to draw the rules, then that Jubilee Line case probably would not have qualified for trial without a jury, but the point I am making is this: that these are very, very difficult questions, but if we do not understand that we have to answer those questions in a very clear way, then we are not, in my view, going to make a difference to this law and order problem. You can see this, for example, on the Proceeds of Crime Act. The Proceeds of Crime Act allowed the police to seize cash that is on somebody who they suspect may, for example, be a drug-dealer, but they are able to take the money. It was 10,000 of cash he had to have, but we have now reduced it, I think it was announced yesterday, to 1,000, so they are able to take that money from the person and the person then has to go to court to prove they came by that money lawfully. Now, there is no doubt at all that that is a reversal of the normal burden of proof and, therefore, at one level it is something contrary to the normal principles of the law and the judicial system. My view is that, unless you are prepared to give those types of powers, you are not going to make a difference in the hard reality of life in the street on the community. What I am saying is that we need to have the debate about the balance of liberty in modern society and some people may say, "Look, that's a step too far", and that is why we have had a lot of these cases challenged in the courts, but my view is that, unless you are prepared to take those methods, and I would actually take them further, then we are not going to make a difference to law and order on the ground. The only way we got any action on anti-social behaviour was after the legislation was passed. Before then there was nothing for these communities to do, no ASBOs, no dispersal orders, no ability to shut down crack houses, nothing. Each of these orders in a sense changed the normal legal processes. I would like to go further in those things, but we have got to have the debate about whether it is right or wrong to do that, and I think the debate needs to happen actually away from the headlines of the individual case which is why in the speech I did in Bristol I actually did not get into the controversial cases that have happened recently. I did not want to do that. I wanted to have the debate about the philosophy that underlies our criminal justice system.

Mr Beith: I think Mr Dismore wants to question where you really do want to go.

Q330 Mr Dismore: Looking at the Human Rights Act, what exactly do you see the problems with the Human Rights Act as being? Are they substantive or is it just how the courts have been interpreting it?

Mr Blair: The important thing about the Human Rights Act is to recognise that it is merely the incorporation into British law of the European Convention on Human Rights. Actually Parliament has the right expressly, and it has to do it expressly, to override the Human Rights Act, so actually your issues are with the European Convention on Human Rights. The truth is that it is possible within the Convention for the courts to take a different view of the balance between, say, liberty and security, but for various reasons they have chosen not to. The most outstanding case was the Chahal judgment in 1996 before we came to power where the courts said that the right of the accused or the convicted to be protected from potential abuse when they returned to their own country is paramount and supersedes any right that the collective in society has to be protected against their activities. Now, it would have been possible frankly for the court to have taken a different view, but they did not, so I actually think sometimes the issue is not so much human rights legislation, it is where you strike the balance between the human rights of the individual, the person who is accused or convicted, and the human rights of wider society

Q331 Mr Dismore: If we take the Chahal case and the Government's attempt to overturn it, intervening in the case presently before the court, it is not just a question of the Human Rights Act of course, but it is our international obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.

Mr Blair: Correct.

Q332 Mr Dismore: In our own domestic legislation as well there is an absolute prohibition on torture. Would you be prepared to send somebody back, knowing there was a real risk that they would be tortured if they were returned to their country?

Mr Blair: No, but I think you can deal with this. This is where, as I say, the balance of the risk is really important. My point would be this: that we should be able to get an assurance from the particular government that they will not abuse or torture the individual. Up to now, what the courts have been saying both at a European and a national level is, "Unless you can guarantee this", possibly by having an NGO actually going in and investigating their judicial system, "we are not accepting that". In my view, the risk in the end, our obligation, is to try and get that assurance from the government, but our obligation does not extend to saying in all sets of circumstances, "We have got an absolute obligation to protect you when you are causing trouble or committing criminal offences in our country". Do you see what I mean? I think for most members of the public, they would say, "Look, if you come to our country, you should behave properly. If you misbehave or commit a criminal act, then the risk that something is going to happen to you falls with you". I think that is not an unreasonable position. Yes, we should go as far as we can go to get assurances from other governments, but it is absurd, I think, that I cannot return someone to a country that they may have a problem in respect of when this particular individual I have got to keep in our country is inciting terrorism or even committing acts of terrorism. That is where, as I say, I think we have got the system completely out of kilter with common sense. Now, I am prepared to go to that government and get an assurance in respect of this individual, but the idea that if I cannot prove absolutely that they are not going to come to any harm when we have got to keep them here, why? Surely the rights of the wider society as a whole to be protected from the activities of that person are of greater force than the risk that, I am afraid, they have taken upon themselves by breaking the rules of our society.

Q333 Mr Dismore: Is not one of the real problems with the Human Rights Act and the criticisms that have been advanced recently based on cases like the Afghan hijackers or the Anthony Rice case, not really part of the Human Rights Act itself or anything to do with it, but actually really they are examples of operational failures or bad decision-making and what has happened is that the Human Rights Act has become a kind of scapegoat for the shortcomings of the decisions in those particular cases?

Mr Blair: I think there is something in that in the sense that, particularly with the Human Rights Act, as I keep saying, in the end Parliament can expressly override it, so the Human Rights Act per se you can always get round if you really want to as Parliament by saying, "Well, we'll legislate despite it". The real issue is to do, I agree, with the European Convention on Human Rights. My point is that the reason we have joined this case, which is before the European Court of Human Rights at the moment, it is a case brought by Holland which is exactly the same problem that we have, but actually all European countries are beginning to have the same problem because all of us are subject to the same global threats of terrorism, the same mass migration, the same problems of organised crime, and if it is being said, "Here is this range of countries and you can't return people to them, no matter what they're doing in your country", you end up in a situation where obviously it is not merely the individual case that is a problem, but you are sending a signal in a market that is highly organised that if you can claim to come from one of these countries and get here, you cannot be removed.

Q334 Mr Dismore: If we take the Afghan hijacker case, which is one of the ones which has been criticised, there it was expressly accepted by the Government before the immigration adjudicators that the hijackers were not a threat to our national security, and the reason they were not returned was a finding of fact, that they were being targeted by the Taliban and would probably be assassinated if they were returned. The Government decided not in the end to use its legal powers, for example, to get judicial review and challenge that decision, so the reason the Afghan hijackers are here is nothing to do with the Human Rights Act, but to do with the failure of the Government to challenge that decision.

Mr Blair: The problem with the Afghan case, and I agree with you in this sense, the Afghan case was a very specific case, but the problem we had there is that if someone comes and hijacks a plane in order to get asylum in this country, it seems to me quite important that you send out a signal that you are not going to gain anything by hijacking an aircraft. Therefore, the worry was not necessarily that these people wanted to come here and specifically commit acts of terrorism here, but unless you were to send a signal to the outside world, "Hijack a plane and come here, you'll go back to where you come from, no matter what your problem is in that country" because we cannot allow any sense that people can gain by a hijack, that was the problem that we faced there, that it was a very particular case, but it is very frustrating for us that the people who hijacked an aircraft, we have now got to let them stay in this country.

Q335 Mr Dismore: Is not the real issue around the Human Rights Act the failure of the Government to explain the benefits of the Act in terms of court cases where the little person has beaten the Government, for example, where there has been a lot of sympathy for the case or generally how it can be seen to influence and improve public services? If you take some examples, like the Zahid Mubarek case, the forcing of the inquiry there which has led to some really important recommendations, or the Beryl Driscoll case where she took on social services and was allowed to remain with her husband in the same care home after six years of marriage when they were going to be separated, or the Diane Blood case and the celebrated fertility issue, those are all very positive abuses of the Human Rights Act, but all we ever hear from the Government at the most have been criticisms of, and attacks on, the Human Rights Act rather than actually favouring the positive things that it has achieved.

Mr Blair: We do talk about the positive things, but I do not think it is completely the fault of the Government that these cases gain a high profile. I think the way it is, these cases do, but the basic point which is the reason I made the Bristol speech and why I am very happy to discuss it here, but I think we really need to have a proper debate about it, is, irrespective of the Human Rights Act, irrespective of individual cases that catch the headlines from time to time, there is a very, very deep-rooted, philosophical debate about the balance between liberty and security that I think we need to have, as policy-makers, because if we do not have that, then every time we legislate, to go back to the issue of legislation again, it is unclear the philosophical framework within which we have decided to do that. Now, as I say, my view of this is that you have got to tilt the system and rebalance it significantly, but that is a view that is obviously strongly open to challenge and I think it is good if we have the debate, but the reason why I get frustrated by this sometimes, and it goes back to the original point that Alan was making to me, I do not think that the systems within the Home Office are the total answer. As I said in my Bristol speech, they are part of the answer, but if you have not got the legal framework right within which these systems are operating, they face an uphill struggle, is the reality of it.

Mr Beith: Can we turn to another aspect of the way you do things, and Mr Yeo.

Q336 Mr Yeo: A rather important aspect of current policy is the nuclear review. It is right, is it not, that you see a new generation of nuclear power stations as an important part of your political legacy?

Mr Blair: I do not know if it is an important part of the legacy or not. I think it is difficult for me to see, on the basis of the evidence now, that we can have secure energy supplies or tackle climate change effectively without replacing our nuclear power stations.

Q337 Mr Yeo: That actually was a view that you formed before you embarked on the review, was it not? You and the Chief Scientist, David King, were determined that we should have a new generation of nuclear power stations and the review has been a device so you can try and deflect some of the opposition within your own Party.

Mr Blair: When you decide to have a review into a particular aspect of policy, a fortiori it is an area that you have decided requires rethinking, otherwise you would not be reviewing it. Now, I will not hide from you that my thought was, "Look, things are changing so fast in relation to climate change and energy security, I think it is time to rethink this", but obviously if the review had come out with evidence which showed this was a bad idea, and we have not published the review yet, but the first cuts of it I have already talked about, then of course my mind would be differently made up. I think when you look at the evidence, it is very hard to see how you are going to get to where collectively, as a country, we have decided we want to be, namely with more secure energy supplies and tackling greenhouse gas emissions without replacing nuclear power, but if the review came out with evidence that showed that was a bad idea and that was not the way to go, then it would not be what we would do.

Q338 Mr Yeo: Though what you have just said of course is completely counter to what was said in the 2003 Energy White Paper.

Mr Blair: Well, it is not completely counter to it, but you are absolutely right in saying that, whereas we left the question open and we were very sceptical at that point, certainly I will be absolutely open with you, I have changed my mind. I think that the fact of what I see happening in energy supply today and my appreciation of the science of climate change, and I think that the intensity and urgency of that challenge mean for me that unless someone can show to me through energy efficiency and renewables that you are going to be able to cure the whole of this problem, then I think that nuclear power goes back on the agenda, yes, I do think that.

Q339 Mr Yeo: I think what you have said this morning though will reinforce the fear in people's minds that this is essentially a decision about nuclear. You did not challenge my description of what actually was announced as the energy review when I described it as the "nuclear review". There are actually very considerable concerns outside that, by focusing so much on nuclear, the Government will not recognise its failure to follow up the 2003 White Paper, which did put an emphasis on energy efficiency, which has not been followed through in policy, and the danger now is that, having said, "Okay, we're going to have some more nuclear", that has ticked that box and you can ignore the other very important aspects that the review should be dealing with.

Mr Blair: Well, I do not agree with that at all. First of all, let me just make it absolutely clear that the review will deal with, and I think people will be quite surprised at some of its conclusions on, energy efficiency and renewables and we will deal with them every bit as radically as anything to do with nuclear. Secondly, I do not actually accept that we have done nothing on energy efficiency since then. I think we have done a significant amount, but I agree one of the reasons for the review was not just about nuclear, but it was to do with the whole issue to do with energy, as I say. There are two things that are making energy policy at the top of the agenda of every single major Western country. One is the fact that energy prices have something like doubled or trebled in the past few years and if you see what is happening, for example, with China and the Chinese economy, this is going to become an even bigger issue in the years to come, and the second thing is climate change. Four years ago, though I do not know that we had these discussions four years ago, probably not, but anyway if we had been talking about this four years ago in a meeting like this, I doubt energy policy would have featured, but I can tell you I cannot remember a European Council a few years ago when we were discussing energy policy. It is now on the agenda of every single European Council, it will dominate the G8 that we are going to have in a few days' time and here we are discussing it, and the reason for that is that things have changed.

Mr Yeo: All of which makes it disappointing that we have not had more ----

Chairman: I am sorry, but we have to move on.

Q340 Peter Luff: This has been very interesting, what you have just said, Prime Minister. You have actually told us that you did prejudge the energy review which is fascinating.

Mr Blair: I did not as a matter of fact.

Q341 Peter Luff: Well, you actually did. You said you had made up your mind that you wanted nuclear and the review was to determine whether or not it proved you were right or wrong.

Mr Blair: No, what I said was that I believed that, because of the way that the changes had happened, I could not see how we were going to be able to meet our targets both on energy security and on climate change without going back to the nuclear option, but of course if the review were to prove that that was the wrong thing to do, it would not be the thing that we would do. There is, as I say, a slight air of unreality about this in the sense that you normally commission a review because you have formed the opinion that things have to change.

Q342 Peter Luff: But no one said publicly at the time review was commissioned that it was to prove your view that we needed nuclear power. The consensus that is emerging during this review process is technology neutrality actually from government policy and the market will then determine what is the appropriate generating framework to provide our energy requirements. Jonathan Porritt told my Committee that the way in which the Government is handling the process which is under review is not clever, so allowing an awful lot of people to assume the assumption was wrong, that is an impartial process, and an exercise in rubber-stamping decisions at a higher level. If they seem to be falling short on that score, that is transparency, then the Government will be its own worst enemy because of it because people need to be taken along in this process. He described your language at a CBI dinner as more to do with bad American films than with proper government. Is this the right way to build a consensus for a very controversial policy?

Mr Blair: In the end people have to make their minds up. I know people always want to take refuge in decision-making in the process, but in the end, like anything in the world in which we live, you conduct all these debates with great public attention and public controversy, but in the end there is a simple question that everyone is going to have to face up to. Over the next few years, three things are going to happen ----

Q343 Mr Beith: I think we know what the question is, Prime Minister.

Mr Blair: But it is the answers that you have to come up with at some point, when you are sitting in my seat anyway.

Peter Luff: It is the process.

Q344 Mr Miller: As you said, Prime Minister, the Energy Paper left open the option of nuclear build. One of the questions which was posed in the consultation paper published in January was: are there particular considerations which should apply to nuclear as the Government re-examines the issues bearing on new build, including long-term liabilities and waste management and, if so, what are these and how should the Government address them? There were 5,300 people who responded to that review. Could we have 5,301? What advice are you receiving on these rather important points?

Mr Blair: On nuclear waste, decommissioning and so on?

Q345 Mr Miller: On the liabilities and waste management side.

Mr Blair: Well, the truth again here is because we have got our existing stock of nuclear power stations, then we will have to deal with these issues of decommissioning and waste management and so on. One of the issues obviously is that the new generation of nuclear power stations do generate, I think, around about ten per cent of the waste of the old ones and also of course I think the technology in dealing with waste management may change over the years to come, but the advice that we have received, and obviously there will be the energy review, but then also CORUM will make its decisions as well, we are going to have to deal with it. My point about it, and this is why I think it is important to talk about the replacement of the nuclear power stations, we are going to have to deal with that in any event, even if we decide we are going to allow the nuclear power stations to be phased out.

Chairman: We have to move on to the next section.

Q346 Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister, when you first took office, you told your ministers that their duty was to uphold the highest standards in public life. Since then, we have had a spate of resignations from the Cabinet, including two members of the Cabinet who resigned twice, each of which you have sought to prevent. The Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said that, in his opinion, you see standards as a peripheral issue, not worthy of serious consideration. Now, that is a fairly serious charge. How do you respond?

Mr Blair: I just totally disagree with it. I do see it as extremely important, but I also think it is important that you take action on the basis of evidence and not on the basis of whatever story is in the media from time to time, which this Government and indeed previous governments have found can be quite difficult to deal with sometimes.

Q347 Mr Whittingdale: In relation to looking at the facts and taking evidence, earlier this year you appointed Sir John Bourn to be an adviser on ministerial interests and to investigate specific cases. That was something which was welcomed even though it was three years after the Committee had originally recommended it should take place. Now, since then, Lord Sainsbury has admitted that he has broken the Ministerial Code and the question of whether or not John Prescott has broken the Ministerial Code is being investigated by the Permanent Secretary. Would it not be better if Sir John himself were able to initiate an investigation rather than waiting in these cases in vain for you to invite him to do so?

Mr Blair: The difficulty in this area is this: that allegations are made against ministers the entire time and if you have somebody who is going to be investigating each one of these allegations, as you often find, it is not as if everyone shuts up and lets them get on with the investigation and then, after a period of calm and quiet, they come out with a decision. What actually happens is that these things are done in a pretty high-octane way day after day after day and if I think there is reason to believe that someone has broken the Ministerial Code, I will take action. If I think it is appropriate to bring in Sir John, I will do that, but I am not going to do that every time someone makes an allegation.

Q348 Mr Whittingdale: Just to take two recommendations which might help to restore public confidence in the system which I think you would probably accept is lacking at present, Sir Alistair has said that the reports of the adviser should be published and that the Opposition Parties should be consulted before any successor is appointed to Sir Alistair. Are those two recommendations ones which you would accept?

Mr Blair: Well, I will think about both of those. I have not actually reflected particularly on the latter one which does not sound completely unreasonable to me actually, I must say, but again you will form your own experiences. You were, I think, or were you special adviser on something?

Q349 Mr Whittingdale: Political secretary.

Mr Blair: I do not know quite how much of this I really should say, but my experience is that every time you try to introduce a new system or a new way of becoming more open, more accountable, the credit you get for it in terms of restoring trust in public life is somewhat limited, but anyway I am happy to look again.

Chairman: Thank you. We move on now to the next section which is chaired by John Denham and it is the counter-terrorism strategy.

Q350 Mr Denham: Prime Minister, obviously the timing of this session means that everybody is thinking about the appalling events of last year's bombings and the victims and their families. It is now nearly a year since those atrocious attacks. What would you say you have achieved in the past year in the attempt to make us safer?

Mr Blair: I think the most important thing is that the security services and the police have carried out their tasks in, as ever in my view, an exemplary way and have actually protected us against further attack although we know there are people who may contemplate such a thing in our country. I also think that there is, but I do not put it higher than this and it is something I have no doubt we will explore now, a greater sense of a debate, particularly within the Muslim community, about extremism and how it should be combated. In addition to that I think that there is and was after 7 July a very clear sense in the country that we want to resolve this issue in a way that keeps the country together rather than pitting communities against each other.

Q351 Mr Denham: Prime Minister, I just observe in passing that you did not mention last year's terrorism legislation as a particularly significant event in making us more secure.

Mr Blair: Of course it is. It is very important in terms of our ability to defeat terrorism but that in a sense is part of the work that the police and the security services do in applying that legislation. I think, and, as I say, I am very happy to get into this, that the roots of this extremism lie in attitudes and ideas as much as organisation and I do not think there is an answer to this terrorism that is simply about police work or security measures.

Q352 Mr Denham: You say, Prime Minister, that there are people planning attacks. The London bombers were British, the people who are accused of being would-be bombers are either British or have been brought up here and the police tell us that other young British people are planning attacks. The truth is that we can be pretty certain, can we not, as we sit here that there are young British people who are actively planning and would like to get away with similar terrorist outrages?

Mr Blair: There is no doubt, as the police said yesterday, that there are groups that we believe are engaged in planning this type of activity.

Q353 Mr Denham: And there is a poll in the papers today saying that 13 per cent of Muslims regard those who killed themselves and other people last year as martyrs. You have to ask the question why the Government appears to have done so little to win hearts and minds in the year that has passed since last July.

Mr Blair: I will tell you my view, again very bluntly. First of all, let us be very clear, as the poll also shows, that the overwhelming majority of Muslims utterly abhor this extremism and are completely opposed to the fanaticism that gives rise to it and are completely on the same side as everybody else in wanting to defeat it. The Government has its role to play this but, honestly, the Government itself is not going to defeat this. This is my view again, and I set it out in a speech I made in March: if you want to defeat this extremism you have to defeat its ideas and you have to defeat in particular a completely false sense of grievance against the West. That has to be done, yes, by Government but it also has to be done by mobilising that moderate majority within the Muslim community to go into the community and take these people head-on, not just in terms of their methods but also in terms of their ideas, in terms of their sense of grievance against the West, the whole basis of that ideology, because this is a global ideology that we are fighting.

Q354 Mr Denham: Last summer, Prime Minister, you went to representatives of that part of the Muslim community and invited them to form working groups under the title "Preventing Extremism Together". Why did you do that?

Mr Blair: Because it is important that we facilitate as much dialogue as we can with the Muslim community. I have done meetings with young Muslims up in the north. I had a meeting with Muslim women, which I found absolutely fascinating, in Downing Street, and if anyone wants to know how false the view is that Muslims as a whole are in favour of this type of extremism these women were devout Muslims but were completely opposed to this entire extremist ideology. Can I come back to the point that I made a moment or two ago because again I think there is a tendency that people would want an easy solution to this. This is a global movement with an ideology. It is not a British movement; it is a world-wide movement. There is a reason why these people have been picked up in Canada as well as the UK. There is a reason why they were plotting terrorist activities in Spain even after the Spanish had withdrawn their troops from Iraq. There is a reason why in countless countries throughout the world, like Egypt and Indonesia and so on, which have nothing to do with the foreign policy decisions of the West, these terrorist acts are happening.

Q355 Mr Denham: That may well be true, Prime Minister, but you invited representatives of what you call, quite rightly, the Muslim majority to advise the Government on what needed to be done and what help they needed in taking on the task that you have talked about. When they reported the group said, "The working groups are united in urging the Government to engage with the Muslim communities at all levels in a sustained dialogue and not as a one-off event. It is imperative to recognise that this report is regarded as the initiation of a long-term process". The reality is, Prime Minister, is it not, that those that took part in those working groups overwhelmingly feel that they were brought in for short term purposes and the reports have not been followed through and most of the recommendations have not been implemented?

Mr Blair: I keep reading this, but if you look at the recommendations, and I think there were 64 of them, many of them are obviously for the community itself to take forward. In respect of the ones to do with Government, we are taking them forward apart from some, like a public inquiry, where we obviously do not agree with what is being recommended. The idea that we are not trying to engage with the Muslim community - we are trying to engage with them but in the end Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities. I am probably not the person to go into the Muslim community and persuade them that this extreme view of Islam is completely mistaken and completely contrary to the proper tenets of the religion of Islam. It is better that you mobilise the Islamic community itself to do this.

Q356 Mr Denham: But the problem is, Prime Minister, that they have produced these reports and on page after page there are recommendations, not on how the Government should do this job for the Muslim community; you are absolutely right about that, but on the support that the Muslim community wanted in doing this job, and most of those recommendations have not been implemented. The Government has never produced any sort of action plan, any timescale for implementing those recommendations.

Mr Blair: I do not agree with that, John.

Q357 Mr Denham: There is not, to the best of my knowledge, an action plan or a timescale or any report of what has been achieved.

Mr Blair: There is a systematic taking forward of the recommendations with which we agree. Let me give you an example of one that came to fruition last week and that is to do with the Advisory Board of Imams and Mosques in respect of those people who go and preach in mosques. For example, in relation to the engagement with the Muslim community, there are ministers engaging with this all over the country. I profoundly disagree that the problem here is that the Government has not acted. That is not the problem. In my view this is the problem: we are not having a debate of a fundamental enough nature within the community itself where the moderate majority go and stand up against the ideas of these people, not just their methods.

Q358 Mr Denham: Do you not recognise, Prime Minister, that the difficulty is that those that you asked and who willingly came forward to be in the front line in that discussion feel let down? Sadiq Khan, your and my Labour colleague, is not a wild radical but he talked last night of the danger of the Government looking like the Grand Old Duke of York, leading these moderate leaders up the hill and down again and leaving them high and dry. Do you not recognise that there is a sense of disillusionment amongst the very people that you asked to go into the forefront of that ideological battle for hearts and minds?

Mr Blair: The point that Sadiq was making was specifically on the public inquiry and we can come to that and I can explain the reasons why I am wholly opposed to such a thing taking place. I do not accept that we are not engaging with the Muslim community. I know everyone always wants to blame the Government for absolutely everything that is happening, and I am not saying that we do not have a huge responsibility which we are trying to discharge in having a dialogue with the Muslim community and trying to make sure that we engage with the reasons for this extremism, but I just say to you that my view in the end is that you cannot defeat this extremism through whatever a Government does. You can only defeat it if there are people inside the community who are going to stand up - and I am afraid this is in my view what has to happen but it is difficult - and not merely say, "You are wrong to kill people through terrorism, you are wrong to incite terrorism or extremism", but actually, "You are wrong in your view about the West, you are wrong in this sense of grievance that people play on within the community as if Muslims were oppressed by the West. The whole sense of grievance, the ideology, is profoundly wrong. There may be disagreements that you have with America, with the UK, with the western world but none of it justifies not merely the methods but also the ideas which are far too current within parts of the community". My view is that until you challenge that at its root you are always going to be left in the situation - and you can see this in some of the comments that are made, and I will not single any out - where people kind of say, and I am putting it maybe in a harsher way than I mean to but I am doing it to make a point, "Look: we understand why you feel like this and we can sympathise with that but you are wrong to do these things". You are not going to defeat it like that. You are only going to defeat it if you say, "You are wrong to feel those things".

Q359 Mr Denham: Prime Minister, just as you may not be the person to go and win all the arguments in the community, I am not necessarily the person to speak for the people in the working group although I have met many of them. Can I ask you this, Prime Minister? If you are as confident as you are in the progress that has been made since last summer are you prepared to meet again with all the people you invited to be in those working groups to discuss with them where they feel progress has got to?

Mr Blair: Of course I am very happy to do that, and I know that Government ministers do meet people the whole time, but sometimes in some of the recommendations that are made you will have a disagreement and what Sadiq singled out was this issue of the public inquiry. As I say, I am very happy to give my reasons as to why this is not the right thing to do.

Q360 Mr Denham: We may come back to the public inquiry but that is helpful. Last year, Prime Minister, you proposed the establishment of a commission on integration. It has never met. It is just not a priority for you, is it?

Mr Blair: It certainly is a priority to make sure people integrate, and part of the reason for the whole of the working groups and so on was to explore ways that people can integrate. I thought one of the most encouraging things about the poll that was done in the newspapers this morning was the view of most Muslims that they want to integrate. This is part of a far bigger picture but we do have to be very specific about this. There is an issue to do with integration which again, if we want to deal with this, we have to deal with.

Q361 Mr Denham: My point is, Prime Minister, that I welcomed it last year when you proposed the establishment of a commission on integration and cohesion. I am just asking why, more than six months after you proposed it, it has never met. I do not even think it has a membership as yet.

Mr Blair: Because what we decided to do was the process of engagement with the Muslim community and, rather than establish, as it were, a specific commission that was going to look at the issues to do with integration before you got the feedback from the working groups, look first of all at what they are saying. The other thing I would just point out to you is that not all the groups agree with each other. That is the other problem. It is not clear to me that there is one unified view within the community as to how to proceed.

Q362 Mr Denham: I am sure there is not, Prime Minister. I am just trying to establish why you proposed something in this area more than six months ago which has never met.

Mr Blair: The reason I am giving is that we think it is best to get the feedback from the groups first and then we can see how we take it forward.

Mr Denham: Amongst the conclusions of the working groups was that although their remit was to tackle extremism, radicalism, most of the working groups saw that solutions lie in the medium to longer term issues of tackling inequality, discrimination, deprivation and inconsistent Government policy, and to pursue some of those I am going turn to Dr Phyllis Starkey.

Q363 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister, John Denham has pointed to one of the key recommendations of the strategy recommended by the working groups, which was eliminating discrimination against Muslims, promoting equality of treatment, opportunity and outcomes between British Muslims and other members of society. Do you accept that achieving equality of opportunity and outcome is a key part of the strategy to win hearts and minds?

Mr Blair: Yes, I do.

Q364 Dr Starkey: In that case can I focus on one particular aspect, which is employment? A report, which was funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and published in April this year, showed that unemployment rates are higher for Muslims than any other part of the population, and where they are in work Muslims are concentrated in low pay sectors like catering, transport and hotels, and a higher proportion are in part-time work than the population at large, so what action are you asking the Government to take to target action to close the employment gap between Muslims and the rest of the community?

Mr Blair: First of all, I think the issue is very stark and, indeed, if you look, for example, at levels of women's employment in the Muslim community they are far below, maybe even half or under half, the levels in the community as a whole. We are, through the funding of groups, through programmes like the New Deal, Sure Start and so on, which we have got in the Muslim communities, trying to make sure that those gaps are bridged. The raising of standards in local schools is very important to doing that, but I want to come back - and again I may offend people by saying this - to the fact that part of the answer to this also lies within the community itself. We can put in programmes but you need community leaders who are also going to be saying, for example, "We need to make sure that women get the opportunities they require to go out and work and get the training and help that they need to do so".

Q365 Dr Starkey: I would not necessarily dissent from the action we are taking about encouraging Muslim women to get into work but you have avoided the issue of male unemployment in the Muslim community. There is 13 per cent male unemployment among Muslims compared with three to eight per cent for other groups. That is a different issue. I am asking you again: what are we doing to target measures at encouraging and helping Muslim men to get into work at the same rate as other men in Britain?

Mr Blair: The very programmes that we have we put in place, like the New Deal, are in the areas where the highest levels of unemployment are and that includes the Muslim community. Again, if there are further things that people would like us to do we are very happy to look at doing them.

Q366 Dr Starkey: I have brought this point up in all our previous meetings, Prime Minister. I accept the New Deal is doing valuable work. I am asking what we are doing to target specifically Muslims because there are innumerable examples which demonstrate that unless things are targeted at that group the gap between them and the rest of the community will remain. If I can point you to a rather different situation from disadvantaged communities with high levels of unemployment, Slough, which is like the powerhouse of the UK in the south east, last week the Chief Executive of Slough Borough Council drew attention to the impact that an influx of migrant workers from an EU accession country was having on employment rates in Slough and said that she was particularly concerned by Pakistani employment rates which have fallen over the last few months. In other words, that particular part of the community in Slough where the economy is amazingly strong, which was already at a disadvantage, in response to a new challenge has suffered a greater disadvantage than the rest of the population. Unless action is targeted at those specific groups, just having the New Deal, which is targeted at all people who are out of work, is not reaching that group.

Mr Blair: It is important, obviously, that we examine that very carefully indeed. The only thing I would say to you though is that the whole point about these programmes is that they go into the areas of most difficulty or, for example, of people who have difficulty with English as a language. There are programmes that are specifically targeted at those people but you can get other pockets of deprivation and unemployment that are not limited to, for example, the Muslim community or the Pakistani community or the Bangladeshi community in certain instances. I agree it is important that we target programmes. I can get you the list of all the fundings we give to particular groups that are voluntary organisations in the Muslim community that help tackle some of this but my point is that it also requires a very clear response from the community itself.

Q367 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister, can I interject on this? Is this a question of joined-up Government? Is it not the fact that migration policy still encourages unskilled young men and women, particularly young men, to come from the Indian sub-continent, large numbers of them? They turn up here with no English, no skills, a history perhaps in agriculture, and they soon become unemployed and that is a very real problem of matching migration policy with what we can do with education, Sure Start and all the other programmes.

Mr Blair: But also it is the importance of the points-based system that we are introducing into migration now that will make sure that if people have not got an employment opportunity they do not come here.

Q368 Dr Starkey: With respect, Prime Minister, can I get back you back to this? The CRE has shown that even when you take into account educational qualifications, fluency in English, et cetera, Pakistani and Bangladeshi citizens fare worse in employment, earnings and career projection, so the point made by my colleague, with respect, is a diversion. There is discrimination against those communities. Even when they have the qualifications they fare less well, although of course it is important to help people without qualifications to get them. We are constantly sliding away from it and saying it is the community's fault. The evidence demonstrates the opposite.

Mr Blair: I am not saying it is the community's fault; let me make that clear, but I think it is quite a big leap from describing the problem to saying it is as a result of discrimination, which is what you are saying. I am not sure I agree with that. The fact is there are programmes that by their very nature will be targeted on the areas of most disadvantage and if that is in respect of the Muslim population that is where those programmes will go. If you were to take - and I am sorry, I do not raise it to divert from the issue you are asking me about - the issue of the low levels of employment amongst women in the Muslim community, that is not simply to do with discrimination in my view.

Q369 Dr Starkey: No, but if you talk about male unemployment, that is not a factor and the CRE report clearly shows, as I say, that when you take into account, when you match all the reasons which might make it more difficult for an individual to be employed, you finish up still with evidence that if you are Pakistani or Bangladeshi you are likely to be worse off in employment, earnings and career projection than somebody with comparable qualifications who is not Pakistani or Bangladeshi.

Mr Blair: I totally agree with that and that is the reason the programmes that we have, which are not, I agree, Pakistani-specific in that case but do, of course, impact enormously on those communities, are precisely to help that. All I am saying is that the only way of dealing with them ultimately is also in partnership with the local community.

Q370 Dr Starkey: Can I take you up on that? The Muslim Council of Britain had a report, Voices from the Minarets, which pointed out that mosques are a valuable community resource and that some sections of the Muslim community do find it difficult to access mainstream services that were "culturally incompetent or insensitive", so are you encouraging mainstream services, where appropriate, to work more closely with mosques so as to make the services more culturally appropriate?

Mr Blair: We really do try to make sure that local schools are very sensitive to the needs of their local communities and I think most schools are. Interestingly, when I had the process of engagement with Muslim women in Downing Street they had two issues about this. One was that they thought it was important, obviously, that the local schools were sensitive to the needs of Muslim children. They actually had a different and almost opposite worry as well, which was that it was important that the mosques too were sensitive to the fact that they had to have the proper education for their kids and that their kids were going to benefit from being in mainstream education.

Q371 Dr Starkey: I am not talking about children; I am talking about adults who need to upskill and who find it difficult with the services currently provided. Are you going to suggest that Government departments providing adult training, which many of these communities find it difficult to access, work more closely with mosques?

Mr Blair: I totally understand what you are saying and I do not really disagree with the need to make sure that we target things properly. Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to get someone to do for me the programmes that are there specifically for the Muslim community and on issues to do with skills and pathways into employment and so on. I do not mean to suggest that just because you have got a general programme it necessarily fits the specific, but my point is that these programmes are designed to target the most disadvantaged groups. The only thing I am saying, and I would say this in respect of male unemployment as well, is that I think it is an issue to do with the partnership with the community which is going to be very important. There is a whole series of questions that we have to engage with to get this right, including the relationship between the mosques and the schools, but you need to get that balance properly done; otherwise there is a danger too in that.

Q372 Mr Denham: Prime Minister, taking up the theme of partnerships in the community but in the rather different area of intelligence and policing, one of the things that is clearly necessary is for information to be provided to the police and the security services. It seems difficult to me to see how you can completely avoid events like Forest Gate, where the police were impelled to go in on what perhaps turns out to be dodgy information, but how can we sustain community confidence in providing information to the police if people feel that operations of that sort are going to take place? It seems to be a genuine dilemma but how do you expect that to be resolved by the various people involved?

Mr Blair: I think that is a very fair point and it is extremely difficult, but, you see, this is where I think this process of engagement with the community has to be done on a very careful basis. I may be wrong in this, and there are others better qualified to speak on it than I, but I suspect that most Muslims would recognise that Forest Gate in a sense had to happen given the information that the police had. What I am trying to say is that part of the problem here is that the way that this discourse happens, and in particular because anybody who is prepared to come out and be critical is going to get a higher profile than anybody who is not, is the least helpful for the police trying to do their job. The truth is that if the police receive this information what can they do? They are bound to go and investigate and take whatever action, and if they did not most people would say they were not performing their duty properly. What this comes back to is this whole business of the relationship between the community and wider society and is it because there is a problem between the West and the Muslim world that these issues are more difficult to resolve? My point about this is that there is an issue to do with the West and the Muslim world and it does make these issues more difficult to resolve but you are absolutely right: there is no way round the situation in Forest Gate and we are going to have to work very hard to make sure that the community understands why these things are done and, obviously, the engagement between the police and the community is an important part of that.

Q373 Mr Denham: Finally from me, Prime Minister, we know that you do not like public inquiries, full stop.

Mr Blair: My experience of this is --- well, you know.

Q374 Mr Denham: Yes, but there has been a call from victims' families and also from the Muslim working groups for a public inquiry not just into intelligence and policing issues but also into the underlying reasons why such an event as last year's bombing could happen. You may not like public inquiries but it would meet a demand from an awful lot of people to have such an inquiry. Why is your position so implacable when it would seem to be a very positive gesture towards both victims and the wider community?

Mr Blair: I believe that if we had a public inquiry we would divert enormous amounts of resource, energy and commitment from the police and the security services I believe that at the moment we have a clear, active threat. I want our police and our security services focused on dealing with that threat. If they end up being engaged in a public inquiry the reality is that, no matter what people might want or say they want at the outset, the resource, commitment and energy of those services will be diverted into that in circumstances where we know what has happened because the identities of these four people that carried out the atrocity are known. I totally understand that, particularly when families are reading constant reports in the media about pieces of information that the security services had that they did not act on. Each and every one of these stories is wrong and false. There was no CIA block of Mohammed Sidique Khan going into America. There was no device in his car planted before 7/7. There was no information given to the police before 7/7 about what they were up to. Each of these stories is simply wrong. I understand when people are reading this though that they think there is some great conspiracy going on or some information they are not getting, so I totally understand, particularly in the tragic circumstances of people still grieving and mourning and angry about the victims of this, why they might want a public inquiry, but my worry and why I think it would not be responsible to do it is that you end up diverting this vast amount of energy and resource into something that is, I am afraid, in the end going to tell us what we already know, which is that these four individuals went and committed this act.

Mr Denham: Thank you, Prime Minister. The wreckage caused by terrorism lasts a very long time and we would like to use the last few minutes of this session to look at the situation at the moment in Northern Ireland.

Q375 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister, what you have just said about public inquiries could be perhaps illustrated by Bloody Sunday and the amount of time and money that that took. You have invested a great deal of your personal energy into trying to bring about a solution in Northern Ireland and you have had the broad general support of Members in all parts of the House and most will hope that your 24 November deadline will be met, but, of course, what you are working for is a situation where people who have been convicted, sometimes of pretty heinous terrorist acts, and others who have supported them and given them succour will possibly be sitting down in the Assembly, maybe even in a power-sharing executive, with others. Is it not absolutely essential therefore that those people should unequivocally repudiate criminality and any association with it?

Mr Blair: Yes, they have to abide by the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, and we have the ability through the Independent Monitoring Commission to see whether the undertakings and commitments that have been given by the IRA are being fulfilled.

Q376 Sir Patrick Cormack: But the Independent Monitoring Commission, even in its latest and most positive report, has indicated that a considerable number of individuals on both the so-called Loyalist and the Republican side who had been paramilitaries are so involved. My Committee has recently completed an inquiry into organised crime. We publish a report in Armagh tomorrow and, without anticipating our findings, it is quite clear from the evidence that has been published (and much of it has been heard in camera) that there is this continuing involvement. Therefore, what are you going to do to give confidence to the community at large? Are you going to insist that before a power-sharing executive comes about there has to be a signing up to the Policing Board by Sinn Fein? Are you going to insist that there has to be an unequivocal pledge to abide by the rule of law and to sign up to the rule of law by those who would sit in government over their fellows?

Mr Blair: Obviously, the nub of the issue has still got to be resolved. We cannot impose a formal pre-condition because the conditions are the ones set out already in the agreements that have been made. The problem on the Policing Board is that Sinn Fein want the devolution of justice and policing and the Unionists are hesitant about that, and both sides' positions are completely understandable, but I agree that it is important that Sinn Fein make it clear that they are against criminality of any kind and that those who are engaged in criminality should be pursued with the full force of the law.

Q377 Sir Patrick Cormack: But they have not made it unequivocally clear either that they are utterly opposed or that they would wish them to be pursued in that way, and so how can you expect the rest of the community, including those law-abiding, democratic Nationalists who vote perfectly honourably SDLP election after election, to have trust and confidence unless there is this unequivocal commitment?

Mr Blair: I think that is the issue. If you are trying to build confidence, leave aside pre-conditions, this never works unless there is confidence because in the end you cannot force people to go into government with each other.

Q378 Sir Patrick Cormack: But then why, Prime Minister, do you persist with Sinn Fein? If Sinn Fein will sign up, fine. I accept that one has to draw lines. I accept that people with a murky past may have to play a part in the government of Northern Ireland, but if they will not do these things there are other law-abiding, democratic parties in Northern Ireland who could be encouraged to coalesce and form a government with Sinn Fein in opposition, so why do you persist if they will not sign up?

Mr Blair: First of all, I think the reality is that there is no way of getting a government in Northern Ireland that does not have Sinn Fein as a partner. I have been over this territory now for almost a decade and every time you come to the crunch point the truth is that there is not really a consensus for a government that excludes them. However, you are right in saying - and this is a point we constantly make - that if people want the right confidence to be there to go into government then the logic of what the IRA have done up to now has to be followed through, and that logic is that if they are not engaged in criminality or terrorism then if crimes are committed the police should be given support in bringing to justice those who commit those crimes. I am trying to use my words carefully because this is, of course, part of the discussion that now needs to take place over the next few months, but the difficulty that you have, just so that one puts the thing in its full perspective, is that Sinn Fein say, "Yes, we will sign up to policing once it is devolved", but the Unionists say, "We do not agree with it being devolved, or not at this stage", and therefore it is slightly more complicated than Sinn Fein simply saying, "We are not backing the police". Having said that, I agree with you that it would be far more easy to get the right confidence that allows this thing to go forward, if indeed it were the case that everybody said, for example, if somebody is robbed or mugged in a Catholic or Republican area the police should be given support in bringing the perpetrator of that crime to justice.

Q379 Sir Patrick Cormack: I think you would accept that it would be very difficult to envisage a government of any part of the United Kingdom containing within it people who were not signed up to the rule of law, and so will you give an absolute undertaking that you will do all you can over the next few months to get that unequivocal undertaking?

Mr Blair: I will do all I can to make sure that people understand that you cannot pick and choose in the rule of law. None of this has been easy over the past few years because it gets at points very difficult to work out and pick a way through, but the one thing I am absolutely sure of is that there is no real reason now why people cannot, as I say, just follow through the logic of the position and get agreement.

Chairman: We now move on to the third section, migration and population policy.

Q380 Mrs Dunwoody: Prime Minister, precisely what is Her Majesty's Government's policy on mass migration?

Mr Blair: To control it so that the people that come into the country are the people we want and need and to do our level best to prevent illegal migration.

Q381 Mrs Dunwoody: So you really have an upper limit? You do not consider that mass migration is needed for economic reasons?

Mr Blair: Yes, I think there is migration that is needed for economic reasons but there should be those economic reasons and it should not happen in an uncontrolled way.

Q382 Mrs Dunwoody: You know that migration quite often means that people concentrate in areas which are already socially deprived. They have difficulty with housing, they have difficulty with social services, and you know that we have had, for example, an influx of Polish workers greater than, some say, any previous movement for many years. Who deals with co-ordinating policies in Whitehall that are responsible for that kind of immigration?

Mr Blair: The Home Office, obviously, deals with the issue of migration but across Government both the Local Government Department and the Home Office look at how you deal with the consequences of this. Dr Starkey mentioned Slough and John had the issue down in Southampton which I know he wrote to me about, and as a result of the letter he wrote we are looking now at how we manage better this process because, I agree, it is very difficult. There comes enormous pressure on local authorities and so on.

Q383 Mrs Dunwoody: But, Prime Minister, it is not being managed at all, is it? Even in an area like Crewe we have had a large influx of Polish workers. They have no support from the social services system. Why should they? They have not contributed. They have to find their own housing. They are brought in by agencies who charge them for accommodation and transport and everything else they can think of and leave them with hardly any money at all. Who is dealing with that problem in Whitehall? It is not just a Home Office problem.

Mr Blair: It is not just a Home Office problem. It is not only the Home Office that deals with it, but the fact is we cannot stop people from the European countries that have come into the European Union coming to our country.

Q384 Mrs Dunwoody: Other nations, of course, have done but we have decided there should be no bar.

Mr Blair: No; it is very important we get this clear. Free movement of people has been there for all the countries in Europe so there is no reason why Polish people or Czechs or Slovaks cannot move around Europe absolutely freely. With regard to the free movement of workers, the ability to work, there were transition periods that some countries agreed but most of those countries have now either come into line with what we are doing or, even through the barriers they have put in place --- I think I was reading the other day that Germany has got somewhere in the region of 500,000 work permits that it has given to east Europeans, so we are all facing the same issue as a result of the membership of the European Union. However, on the whole I think a lot of that migration has also been beneficial for our economy.

Q385 Mrs Dunwoody: In my constituency schools are closing and then suddenly receiving large influxes of children they had not planned for. Is there a minister with special responsibility for co-ordination across the Home Office, social services, benefits, education as well, who can demonstrate that they have a co-ordinated policy that they are very happy to accept, for economic reasons, these migrants and that they are going to give support to the local government areas concerned? Who is it?

Mr Blair: The Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government do work very closely on it but there is a limit to what they can do because it is not clear always where the people will go, and when they do go and, for example, there is then pressure on the local school then yes, of course, the Department of Education is brought in as well.

Q386 Mrs Dunwoody: You have yourself said that public concern is frequently generated by the perception that the system has not been sufficiently managed or controlled, so what are your plans now to deal with that?

Mr Blair: I think you have to look at migration in two quite separate dimensions.

Q387 Mrs Dunwoody: You have to deal with the migration when they appear, Prime Minister, on the ground, to be fashionable.

Mr Blair: But there is a big difference between people who have got an absolute right to come here, which is what those people who are members of the European Union have, and other people, who obviously have to go through visa requirements and so on.

Q388 Mrs Dunwoody: At the moment we do not seem to be dealing terribly well with either. What is the co-ordinated plan? Let us take immigration from eastern Europe. What local government support is being given? What services are available? What extra monies have been donated by central Government and who has the overall responsibility for deciding these priorities?

Mr Blair: For example, in respect of the money that comes to local government, that is part of the continual discussion that the Department for Communities and Local Government has with local government about the pressures that are on them, and this is part of the perpetual negotiation when authorities come to us, as they have done recently and said, "Look: there are more people here than we bargained for. You have to give us additional resource". That is part of the negotiation that has gone on for ever about these things. The point I am making to you though is that it is a completely different situation with people coming from the European Union than with people coming from outside.

Q389 Mrs Dunwoody: Yes, and the point I am making to you is that I see no clear indication that we have a very clear policy for either group.

Mr Blair: We do actually have a clear policy for both, but I agree: it is very difficult. There are huge challenges for any country at the moment dealing with mass migration. We are not alone in that. It is probably the biggest issue on the agenda of most European countries and it is the single biggest domestic issue in the United States.

Q390 Mrs Dunwoody: So is it the Government's intention to isolate specific sums of money to deal with this and to make it very clear to the local authorities who are under pressure that they will give them extra support that is not part of their normal local government funding?

Mr Blair: We do as part, as I say, of the negotiation that goes on the whole time between local government and central Government. When there are particular issues that come up in local authority areas then we can and do allocate additional sums, but obviously it is a situation which you have to negotiate on each basis because otherwise you end up not having proper control of public money.

Q391 Mrs Dunwoody: Except that the people who have children who appear on the doorstep of schools which are about to be closed are not negotiating, are they, Prime Minister?

Mr Blair: If you have a situation where, as a result of people coming into the country, there is pressure on a particular school, or indeed it could be pressure on the local employment circumstances and local housing is another major issue, then you have to handle it as best you can, and that is a matter, as I say, for discussion between central Government and local government, but there is no easy way of dealing with this.

Q392 Mrs Dunwoody: Life is difficult, Prime Minister.

Mr Blair: Yes. Thank you for acknowledging that.

Mrs Dunwoody: I thought it was what you were paid for; forgive me. You have differentiated between illegal migrants and the other kind. Can Mike Gapes ask you some questions on this?

Q393 Mike Gapes: Leaving aside the European Union migrants, you referred to people who come here with visas. Could you tell me how many people come in legally to work, to study, to join families or as asylum seekers each year?

Mr Blair: People who come in to study I think ‑ and I will have to check the exact figures for you ‑ last year there were round about 270,000 who came into study, which was slightly down on the previous couple of years. The asylum applications last year were 25,000. You have got basically 11 to 12 million people who come in, most who come in as tourists but others who come in for short work periods and so on.

Q394 Mike Gapes: What is your best estimate of the number of people who come in illegally, either by overstaying or by being smuggled in by people smugglers or coming in in other ways?

Mr Blair: As I always say to people ‑ and it is not often I pray in aid Michael Howard but I do on this occasion, when he was Home Secretary in the previous Government - the very nature and the fact that they are illegals makes it difficult to have a precise estimate. As I say, this is a problem for every single major country and the reason is perfectly simple: because you have got millions of people who come into our country perfectly lawfully, who we want to come into our country, for reasons of trade, for reasons of studying, for reasons of tourism. The difficulty is that if any of those people overstay then you have got to have a system for checking up on it. That is why, to get back on one of my familiar hobby horses, in the end the only answer to this is electronic borders and identity cards, and even then you will not have a complete answer.

Q395 Mike Gapes: The Home Office published in 2005 a study by the Migration Research Unit at the University College London that said in 2001 their central estimate was 430,000 illegal migrants in the UK in 2001. Would you demur from that figure?

Mr Blair: No but, as I think they also pointed out at the time ‑ and that is why this figure has been widely canvassed ‑ the truth is you cannot be absolutely sure for the very reason of the problems that you have. One of the reasons why we have introduced the points system, why we have tightened up significantly, for example, on student visas, why we are introducing biometric visas and biometric passports, is precisely in order to make sure we have a better record, but we are in no different a position, in fact in some ways we are in a better position than many other European countries.

Q396 Mike Gapes: The new Home Secretary John Reid said that: "Illegal immigrants should not be coming here; if they get here we should find them; and when we find them we should deport them." Given that there are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in this country, many of whom may have been here several years, including people who have young children born in this country, people who have been educated entirely in this country, is it really a realistic option to find and deport hundreds of thousands of people and their families?

Mr Blair: It is extremely difficult but on the other hand it is important that where people are here illegally that they are deported. Part of the trouble is, though, when you do want to deport people, for very obvious reasons, you will find great local campaigns in favour of the people, people saying it is quite wrong that they are put out of the country and so on. In the end, until there is a proper system of identifying people, it is going to be very, very difficult to do.

Q397 Mike Gapes: Two‑thirds of all new migrants come to London and the South East. Presumably a similar proportion of illegal migrants or maybe more come to London and the South East. We know that in the London economy, which is so vital to the rest of the country, there are hundreds of thousands of people working in all kinds of jobs, many of whom may have a chequered immigration history. What is going to be the consequence of deporting hundreds of thousands of people from London and the South East?

Mr Blair: Well, I think, Mike, you have got to look at it the other way as well. What is the consequence of saying that even if someone is an illegal migrant, you are going to allow them to stay? The consequence is that you are going to get a lot more. So it is very difficult. The most sensible thing for us in this particular debate is to realise the scale and the challenge of the problem. I know it is very easy for you to sit here and say this, "But this Home Office official or that Home Office minister ..." When I had a discussion with the European Council a couple of weeks ago with the European leaders, the discussion over dinner was about this topic and the Spanish led the way on it and just said, "Down in the south of Europe we are being overwhelmed by this problem of mass migration. Up in the north of Europe it is all different," and we all put our hands up and said, "No, it is not." If you take a small country like Malta, this is a very, very serious issue for them right now because of the numbers of people that are coming illegally across from Africa and elsewhere. In the end the reason why it is so difficult is this: there are good reasons for people coming into countries today and the majority of people, as I say, you want to come in and therefore the problem is if someone, for example, comes in with a student visa and they overstay at the end of it, you need a big system to put in place to be able to go and track down that person and pick them up and put them back. One of the reasons why I am saying that you need to refashion all the rules around this type of situation is that the scale of what you are talking about is just a world away from 20 or 30 years ago. I agree with you, it is very, very hard to go and deport people who may have been here for several years illegally. On the other hand, it is a very big signal to send out if you are going to say, "Provided you can stay here a certain length of time, even though you are an illegal, we will not do anything about you." That is why in the end this is where Europe has got to co‑operate on a far better basis to protect our borders. In the end, as I say, here in this country and I am sure this will happen elsewhere as well, biometric technology and identity cards will be the answer.

Q398 Mr Maclean: Prime Minister, in answer to Gwyneth a few moments ago you said this was one of the greatest problems the Home Office faced and there was a limit on what the Home Office could do about it. Is that limit not apparently imposed by the Home Office itself, since it seems to have fallen into a shambles according to your current Home Secretary? Why after nine years of your administration does your Home Secretary say that the Home Office is dysfunctional, unfit for purpose, lacking in management systems and leadership?

Mr Blair: What he actually said was as a result of the scale of the challenges in mass migration, the Home Office is not fit for purpose. If you look back over the past nine years it is simply not true to say that nothing has happened. If you take the asylum system that we inherited from your administration, David, that system was in a genuine shambles. You were not a Home Office Minister, were you?

Q399 Mr Maclean: I was a Home Office Minister and it was not a shambles, Prime Minister!

Mr Blair: Actually it was a shambles. I am so glad I remembered that! Let me just tell you that when we came to office, it used to take on average, I think I am right, 14 months to do an asylum application and we had a 60,000 backlog of asylum cases. Am I right?

Q400 Mr Maclean: We had fewer asylum seekers than we have now, Prime Minister.

Mr Blair: No, excuse me, you did not. The figure, if you include the dependents, for the last year of your administration was 40,000. It is 30,000 this year. It is actually lower and we had a 60,000 backlog that we have taken down to 6,000 and we get 80 per cent of the cases done within two months.

Q401 Mr Maclean: Prime Minister, we did not have an official report from the Home Office saying we had half a million illegal asylum seekers in this country who have not been deported.

Mr Blair: No, and I will tell you why you did not; because your Home Secretary at the time said that he could not calculate the numbers. David, there is no point us being daft about this. The fact is you were trying to deal with this problem; we are trying to deal with it; every country round the world is trying to deal with it. There is no point suggesting it is just because people are being feckless and silly.

Mr Maclean: No‑one is suggesting that, Prime Minister.

Q402 Mrs Dunwoody: Can we just have one at a time. I am happy to let you fight, children, but let us try and get some order!

Mr Blair: Thank you, Gwyneth.

Q403 Mr Maclean: Can I say that Jack Straw, an honourable and decent and straight man, as Home Secretary never made the point when he took over the Home Office that somehow it was a shambles. He wanted more legislation, quite rightly, he wanted to implement his programme. One never heard the same comment from David Blunkett or Charles Clarke. Why is it that your new Home Secretary has decided that after nine years the Home Office is now dysfunctional and a shambles? You cannot blame that on an administration nine years ago, when none of your other Home Secretaries has made the comment.

Mr Blair: First of all, I will send to you a series of comments that David Blunkett made and I think Charles himself made, which suggested because of the scale of the changes that are taking place and the challenges, the Home Office needed fundamental change and reform. The point that I am making to you is it is not as if --‑ and I know this is a very common way of putting it and it is what people always say, "We have had nine years and nothing has happened." Lots of things have happened. The asylum system is in a completely different shape from what we inherited in 1997, but the fact is ‑ and as I say this is why every single country is facing the same issues - the system is very, very difficult. I do not go back and say that everything you guys did when you were in the Home office was wrong. Some of the problems that Michael Howard was trying to deal with, some of the legislation actually he introduced before we came into office was exactly trying to deal with the same problems. This is a feature of the modern world.

Q404 Mr Maclean: And you scrubbed the black list of countries and the white list and then created the problem.

Mr Blair: No, we did not actually, David. The problem with the way that your list worked was that there were certain countries that you said literally, "We are not returning people to," and in the end this is why we introduced the non‑suspensive appeal system because you need to get a far faster way of dealing with these people who are coming through and claiming asylum. Let us be absolutely clear about this, this is part of the problem. For the majority of people who claim asylum it turns out their claims are unfounded. Let us be clear about this before we stigmatise these people. It is not because they are terrible people. They are people who, for perfectly understandable reasons, are in search of a better life. They come from very poor countries, they go abroad because they want to work hard for their families and raise their families in some sort of decency. They are basically decent people but the trouble is they come in claiming asylum when actually they are economic migrants.

Q405 Mrs Dunwoody: I just want to move on Prime Minister. Dr Wright?

Mr Blair: We were beginning to enjoy ourselves there, but anyway ---

Q406 Mrs Dunwoody: I rather thought you were doing that. That is why we are moving on!

Mr Blair: That is a very indicative comment.

Mrs Dunwoody: You looked to me like you were moving into automatic mode so I thought the moment had come to intervene. Dr Wright?

Q407 Dr Wright: Could I ask you, Prime Minister, does the Government have a population policy?

Mr Blair: A population policy? No, but we do have a migration policy obviously.

Q408 Dr Wright: You know this is political dynamite, do you not?

Mr Blair: I think that is pretty obvious, yes. I do not know where that is going to lead the news tomorrow as a comment.

Q409 Dr Wright: You have been asking us to have a debate about all kinds of things as we have gone along. Why do we not have a proper debate about population and migration rather than just explode all over us every time we have an election or a crisis? The population has gone past 60 million in the last year. It is going to rise by 12 per cent in the next generation. Every year we are inventing a new Oxford, a new Middlesbrough, or a new Ipswich. This may be a good thing, it may be a bad thing, it may be it means that it is easier to get a waiter and it is harder to get a parking place, but what the country desperately needs is some serious debate about this, does not it, and we are not getting it, are we?

Mr Blair: The remedy lies in our own hands. We should have that debate. I am perfectly happy to participate in it and give my views on it. Look, the most difficult thing, as you well know Tony, is to have a debate on this topic devoid of hysteria and over‑emotion. The most important thing is to have a rational and sensible debate. I think that is a very, very sensible thing to do.

Q410 Dr Wright: Why do we not therefore have a proper cost‑benefit analysis of the costs and benefits of different levels of population, most of it being fuelled by migration, and perhaps have an independent commission that looks at these issues that can inform public debate about them, because if we do not do these things, I think we all know the potential for nasty Right‑wing extremists doing things about them is there all the time and is going to get worse.

Mr Blair: Yes, but the difficulty when you try to examine what is the cost and benefit is that you can look and analyse this at a number of different levels. Even on what you were talking about with population growth, I do not have the exact figures in my head but I am not sure that the driver is simply migration or even mainly.

Q411 Dr Wright: It is the main driver.

Mr Blair: You have also got population ‑‑‑

Dr Starkey: Longevity.

Q412 Dr Wright: The main driver is migration and the effects of migration on the birth rate.

Mr Blair: I was about to say that the birth rate is different amongst different communities but not all of those communities are necessarily people who have not been here for some significant period of time, and indeed perfectly lawfully. I am not sure that it is the facts in an objective sense that you need to debate. I am very happy to look at that, but I think the facts are very difficult to be objective about in terms of what is the benefit or disbenefit of migration. My own view of this is that migration, on the whole, is positive and of benefit to countries but it needs to be controlled and there need to be rules. The question is how do you impose rules in the modern world where there is this mass migration, mass travel and mass communication? It is very, very difficult to do. I think most people in the country, in fact, are not racist about this at all actually; they just want to think that there is some order and some rules that can be brought to this situation. The trouble is from a policy‑making point of view those rules are very, very difficult because, as I say, the moment you realise that literally 11 to 12 million people come into this country every year, you understand the scale of the problem because, as I say, the vast, vast bulk of those people are perfectly lawful and absolutely necessary for our economy. I think it is the rules that are the problem here.

Q413 Mrs Dunwoody: I hope you are not telling us, Prime Minister, that you are taking decisions on facts that you are not sure about. I am sure you would never do a thing like that.

Mr Blair: The facts on cost-benefit are not necessarily facts. When you actually analyse them sometimes they are opinions.

Q414 Mrs Dunwoody: I see, facts when you agree with them are facts ‑‑‑

Mr Blair: No, I am not saying that. All I am saying is I do not think you will get a factual statement as to whether migration is a good thing or a bad thing.

Mrs Dunwoody: Finally, Mr Sheerman wants to ask you a brief question about education.

Q415 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister, people in this country are very fair‑minded, as you have said, and we have a very tolerant society on the whole but they do want to see migration and the migrants that come here to have skills ands job and to become, in some way, real members of our community. There seems to be confusion amongst yourselves, particularly amongst your ministers, about what we are trying to do about British citizenship. We have ministers shooting off saying we must have a test of "Britishness". We have the more thoughtful work from Professor Crick in terms of how we indoctrinate people into being good citizens. What is your feeling about what makes a good citizen now?

Mr Blair: I think the most important thing is that everybody who comes into this country shares the basic values of the country, values about democracy, the rule of law, and tolerance and respect for people of other faiths and races and creeds. I think that is the most important thing. What binds us together and makes us British are the common values we have.

Q416 Mr Sheerman: Would you say the English language is central to that?

Mr Blair: I think it goes back to what we were saying before about integration. I think it stands to reason that the more that people, whilst retaining their own identity in terms of religion or race, integrate the better, and therefore that is why I think English language is important, yes.

Mr Sheerman: Evidence given to my Committee suggests that there was a deficiency in terms of the ability of people to get English language. Peter Hyman who used to work in Number 10 as an adviser and now works in an Islington school, said if only there was a capacity for intensive English language training when migrants come here, whether it is from Pakistan or Poland ‑‑‑

Mrs Dunwoody: I think the Prime Minister has got it.

Q417 Mr Sheerman: Why is there not enough money and resources for English language?

Mr Blair: I think we do put a lot in. I have not got the exact figures in front of me but I think we do put a lot in. Yes, there is more that we can do. The thing that really worries me is if people have been here for maybe ten, 15 or 20 years and cannot speak the English language. That is a worry.

Q418 Mr Sheerman: Do you look at programmes in order to help those people?

Mr Blair: Yes, and I think also it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, you also need the community itself where these people are living to be engaged in that as well.

Mrs Dunwoody: On that note of co‑operation, Mr Williams.

Chairman: Thank you very much, Gwyneth. We move now, Prime Minister, away from domestic affairs into what is likely to become a regular subject area which is across the international field and the international update. Sir George Young?

Sir George Young: Prime Minister, in this last session we want to try and cover a lot of territory. We plan to ask short, focused questions in the hope that these will elicit short, focused answers. Can we start with Iraq and Mike Gapes.

Q419 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, how long do you expect British troops to be in Iraq?

Mr Blair: As long as the Government there wishes them to be there. I suspect over the next 18 months there will obviously be opportunities to draw down significant numbers of British troops because the capacity of the Iraqi forces will build up.

Q420 Mike Gapes: You say 18 months. Have you had any discussions within government about the exact circumstances which would allow us to have a total withdrawal?

Mr Blair: Really what we have discussed in government is how, as progressively the Iraqi forces are more capable of taking over individual provinces, we can withdraw. When people talk about total withdrawal you can get into debates about this. If one is talking about substantial troop reductions, we will only remain there as long as the Iraqi Government wishes us to be there. I think they are keen to get control of their own security situation.

Q421 Mike Gapes: It has been suggested that actually the foreign forces in some parts of Iraq have become the focus for the insurrection and for the opposition and that therefore our very presence is preventing the Iraqis themselves coming to a solution. Do you agree with that?

Mr Blair: I agree that their presence is used by certain of the groups but it is a very interesting thing, Mike, when I was in Baghdad a short time ago and I was actually asked by one of the leading Sunni people, "When are you and the Americans and the troops from the other countries going to withdraw?" and I said, "When do you want us to go?" the moment I put the question back to him it very quickly became, "Not actually yet, thank you." The one thing I make a plea with ‑ probably vainly ‑ for the way the media report this is not to disenfranchise the people the Iraqis have elected. They have got a coalition government effectively of all the main groups so it is about as representative a government as you could possibly have and they are the people who know the balance between us being a support and us being a provocation. The one thing that is very, very important in this is to listen to what they actually say. What the Iraqis say, and the Sunni who is the Defence Secretary said this in an article he wrote a short time ago, is, "Yes, we want you to leave as soon as possible but that possibility is not now." I think they are the best judges of this.

Q422 Mike Gapes: I have heard the same arguments, Prime Minister, both from Iraqis visiting this country and also when I have been in Iraq. I have been in Iraq three times. I was in Basra in January and I have to say each time I go there ‑ and it was my third visit to Basra ‑ the situation is worse in security terms than the first time that I went. Has there not come a point where we need to reassess fundamentally what we are doing in Basra in the south? Has the situation deteriorated because of our role there or is there anything specifically we could be doing differently, given that it is a Shia on Shia struggle in the south rather than a Shia/Sunni conflict.

Mr Blair: What you have got is the extremists on both sides, Sunni extremists in the centre and the north and down in the south Shia extremists, and both of them have got the same aim; to prevent the democratic government having its run. Down in Basra they may use the presence of British forces as the excuse but that is not really their aim. Their aim is to get political and security control of Basra so that they can run Basra rather than have the democratic government run it. Again, in Basra ‑ and I have discussed this with the new Prime Minister, and I discussed it incidentally with Vice President Mahdi when he was here a short time ago. If they say to us, "We are better off without you," we would go but that is not what they are saying. They are saying we need to build our own force capability here, but for the moment we need you in support otherwise these extremists who want to have a sectarian future for Iraq will succeed. It is a very tough situation there but, as I say, the important thing is always to say who are the people who are the authentic voice of Iraqis? And I think the best thing to do, and why should we not say this as democratic politicians, is the people they elect will give you the best opinion as to what Iraqis really want.

Q423 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, can I just remind you of what you said last time we asked you about Iraq, which was in November. You said "there is not a great deal of good news at the moment" but you went on to talk about a "basic optimism for the future". Are we not back where we were last November, not a lot of good news at the moment but basic optimism about the future?

Mr Blair: Well, in that sense I think there is because of the democratic process. It is a perfectly simple thing. You have got a democratic process which despite all the odds has worked where you have got the Sunnis voting, the Kurds voting, the Shias voting. They have voted to come into a government together and they represent the majority of Iraqis. You have got a small minority who want to disrupt the process and either return to Saddam‑type policies or to end up with a sectarian Iraq.

Sir George Young: Can I bring in Edward Leigh there.

Q424 Mr Leigh: It is significant that you talk about politicians' conversations but let us talk about ordinary Iraqis. Do you think that as far as ordinary people are concerned, who are not very interested in politics, the first thing they want from any government is personal security so that they can get on with their own lives?

Mr Blair: Of course, absolutely.

Q425 Mr Leigh: Of course. I have only been to Baghdad once, years ago before the invasion. I walked around and there was no question of any threat to me personally or anything else. Nobody in this room would dare walk around Baghdad now. Do you accept the evidence of the Iraqi body count of a respected Oxford research institute that 38,000 ordinary Iraqis have died since your invasion?

Mr Blair: Hang on a minute, Edward, you might have been able to walk around in Baghdad because you were a Westerner there. If you were someone who disagreed with Saddam's regime you ended up in a mass grave.

Q426 Mr Leigh: Come on.

Mr Blair: I am sorry, you come on. 300,000 people are in mass graves there.

Q427 Mr Leigh: Prime Minister, you are not surely suggesting to this Committee that the ordinary life of Iraqis has in any conceivable way been improved in terms of their personal security? These are not politicians, not the people you talk to. Do you accept that tens of thousands of Iraqis are now dead as a result of this invasion?

Mr Blair: Well, hang on a minute, they are not dead as a result of the invasion or the removal of Saddam. They are dead as the result of the activities of a criminal minority who want to stop the majority getting the democracy they want. As for these politicians that you talk about in this way as though they do not represent anybody, they stood for election. If the Iraqi people wanted to get Saddam back they could have voted for the Saddam Party. They did not and they did not for a very simple reason; that like the rest of us they prefer freedom. There is no reason whatever why they should not have it except for the activities of this criminal minority. Our job should be when these people are killing the innocent and butchering them with this appalling terrorism and atrocities, to stand with the democrats against the terrorists. You are talking about it as if it is our fault that these people are dying.

Q428 Mr Leigh: I am sorry but the invasion has taken place, there was a great deal of debate and there was ample warning given to you from many sources that the invasion would exacerbate sectarian tensions. We are where we are. You have a country that is on the brink of civil war. Every time you come to the Liaison Committee you say it is getting better. You heard what Mike Gapes said about his experience in Basra. I was talking to a constituent recently who was sick with worry about her soldier son in Basra, saying that our troops were not wanted there. When was the last time you talked to a private soldier without their officers listening in? When was the last time you talked to ordinary Iraqis?

Mr Blair: Excuse me, Edward, I talk to soldiers certainly a lot of the time and the soldiers themselves who are out there have a very clear view of the validity of what they are doing. It is true I do not get to talk to many ordinary Iraqis, but I will tell you what I did do just last Wednesday; I met eight Iraqi members of parliament from different parts of Iraq. That is what I mean by disenfranchising these people. They are elected. Should we not listen to them? They are not saying, "We wish you had never got rid of Saddam. We were better off with Saddam." What they are saying is, "Help us to sort this security situation." My view of this is because I think it is part of the total global picture that when these people want to disrupt the desire of the majority to get a democracy ‑ and they do desire it because that is what they voted for, they participated in this election despite being harried and hounded and subjected to acts of terrorism - when they elect their government, why on earth should we not be standing alongside them trying to help them get the democracy they want, instead of saying to them, "I am sorry, you have got a choice. You can either have a brutal dictator who used to murder you if you disagreed with him or, alternatively, you can have sectarians who will murder you if you disagree with them." Why should they not have the same rights as everybody else? Why should not our job as the international community ‑ and after all we are there with a UN mandate now and have been for three years ‑ to be behind them? I really regret it when people say these things as if the troops out there are not doing a valuable job. The people who can determine whether they are doing a valuable job or not are not just ourselves but the Iraqi politicians who are elected out there. They want them to stay and to help them.

Sir George Young: Prime Minister, can we move on to Afghanistan, an equally if not more worrying situation, and Malcolm Bruce.

Q429 Malcolm Bruce: Prime Minister, I am sure you, as the whole Committee have, will have sympathy with the families of the five British soldiers who have been killed in Helmund province in the last three weeks. We have currently 3,300 troops, rising to a peak of somewhat less than 5,700. Is that enough troops do the job in that particularly dangerous province?

Mr Blair: First of all, I would both repeat the condolences I gave at an earlier stage for the soldiers killed and also the soldiers just recently killed a couple of days ago who were very, very brave people doing an extraordinary and important job out there. Insofar as the issue to do with the levels of troops or their equipment, obviously any requests that are made by the military we would respond to positively.

Q430 Malcolm Bruce: Well, at the moment we have had five casualties in three weeks. This is at least a three‑year mission. There were reported at the weekend eight enemy contacts a day. Have we ‑ and I say by we Parliament, maybe you, the British people - been misled about the scale and risks of the mission to which are troops are committed?

Mr Blair: I have looked very carefully at the statement which John Reid made to the House of Commons on 26 January and also the full statement that he made when he was in Kabul in April. There has never been any doubt that when you moved down into the south, the Helmund province, it was going to be a lot more dangerous. It is going to be a lot more dangerous. It is an enormous tribute to our troops that they are doing this work there, but we should support them in the work that they are doing. The work they are doing is absolutely vital because if the Taliban get a foothold back in Afghanistan then the very reasons following 11 September why we had to go into Afghanistan will reappear, with all the consequences for our own security and the security of the wider world.

Q431 Malcolm Bruce: I do not dissent from that. I do not think there is disagreement about that wider objective. I think the concern nevertheless is that our troops have been put into a situation where they may be overexposed and also there is some degree of inconsistency or incompatibility with security and assisting development. Can I just ask you this question, Prime Minister: we have a situation where in Helmund province poppy cultivation has gone up to 45,000 hectares with a value of over $200 million expected this year, and part of our troops' mission is effectively to deprive the farmers who are growing their poppies of their livelihoods. How is that going to win the hearts and minds of the people and how is that going to secure the province and indeed not expose our own soldiers to even greater risks?

Mr Blair: The whole purpose of the mission down in Helmund - and we are in Afghanistan so are the troops of many, many other countries and down in the south we operate with thousands of troops from other countries as well - is to support the reconstruction in Afghanistan and precisely to make sure that in the Helmund province, where many of the problems have arisen, that we are able to establish proper government there and give a livelihood to the local population that does not involve them producing heroin.

Q432 Malcolm Bruce: That is the problem, Prime Minister. It is estimated that 55,000 households, 380,000 people, one‑third of the entire population of the province are dependent on the poppy crop, which yields about 12 times in value what wheat does. If our troops are engaged in effectively taking that livelihood away is not the consequence of that likely to be disaffection, recruitment into the Taliban and a greater threat to the safety of our own troops?

Mr Blair: What do you suggest the alternative is? To let the province carry on growing large amounts of the poppy crop with all that means not just for us and the heroin that comes on to our streets - since for many, many years, as you know, 90 per cent of the heroin in the UK comes from Afghanistan - but also for Afghanistan itself being turned into a narco‑economy? The purpose of what we are doing down there, frankly, there is a lot of nonsense being talked about the mission being uncertain or people not knowing what the mission is. As John explained when he came to the House on 26 January, the mission is to assist the Afghan Government in the process of reconstruction, which includes making sure that instead of being dependent on the drug trade, their economy can grow and prosper properly and normally. As he said then and as we know now, in order to do that we will have to defend ourselves when attacked and take pre‑emptive action if necessary. That is precisely why we said at the time this is a more dangerous mission, as have been the other missions which have been round in Afghanistan where you are directly taking on people who are trying to prevent that reconstruction taking place.

Q433 Malcolm Bruce: Can I finally say to you, Prime Minister, in Thailand where they had a drug problem, they did in fact have a phased programme over several years of paying people the equivalent amount. If you take their livelihoods away from people and cannot find an alternative, is the reality ‑ that is my point ‑ that you are not getting the support of the people because you are making them poorer when you are supposed to be helping them get out of poverty?

Mr Blair: The whole point about the programme is that we are not simply taking their livelihoods away and saying that is it. Britain itself alone is putting in over the next few years somewhere in the region of $250 million into programmes of alternative livelihood. This is being done in conjunction with the Afghan Government. The reason why the Afghan Government are so insistent that they work particularly on Helmund province is for exactly the reason that you have given. That is where the Taliban want to get a foothold back in and it is obviously what al‑Qaeda want as well. Of course, these people use narcotics and the drug trade in order to do that. My point again is the most important thing for us as an international community is to stand with the Afghan Government and help them make sure that the Taliban cannot come back in. Afghanistan has made real progress in the past few years, if you take the girls able to go back to school, the people who have returned to Afghanistan, even the growth of the economy. There are changes that are happening but again you have got the same global movement trying to prevent these countries becoming stable countries, becoming democracies, which their people want, and the reason for that is very simple; that if they become those kinds of stable democracies, the Taliban are gone and so are al‑Qaeda with them.

Q434 Chairman: Can we just follow on that. The other day there were two incidents on the same day, one in which our troops were surrounded on three sides. They escaped without loss but the dangerous lesson that was learned, if reports are correct, by the Taliban was that the reason the helicopters could not help them in that battle was because the helicopters were already engaged in another battle. If we are that limited in resources, the Taliban will soon work out tactics to attack us.

Mr Blair: Thank you for raising that because it allows me to make one thing absolutely clear. I was reading all sorts of reports in the newspapers that the generals had demanded this and demanded that of me last week, and so on. I have not actually received any request yet, but of course whenever you do a mission like this you are constantly, and so are they the commanders on the ground, quite rightly, assessing what more do we need in terms of personnel, equipment or resource. Anything they need and ask for in order to protect our troops I will make sure that they get. Our obligation to them is to give them what they need to do the job and if they come to us and say, which they have not so far but they may well do, "This is what we require in addition because now we are actually there we can see this problem and that problem emerging," of course we will respond to it positively. The important thing to realise though is we always knew this mission was going to be difficult. We said that right from the outset and it is going to be difficult precisely because of its importance in turning the country round. What is happening is that first of all in the north and then in the west of the country and then in the south, we have been going bit by bit through this ‑ and Britain has not been doing all of it, there have been many other countries involved as well ‑ in trying to make sure that we support the local Afghan government in making sure that they can deal with these problems of reconstruction and the problems that they have with the Taliban trying to get a foothold back.

Sir George Young: Can we pursue the theme that Malcolm mentioned at the end, the war on the opium trade, and bring in Phyllis Starkey and the relationships with Iran.

Q435 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister, much of the drugs from Afghanistan transit through Iran and there is very productive co‑operation at the moment between the UK and the Iranian authorities on trying to control that trade. When I was in Iran just a few weeks ago they pointed out the large numbers of Iranian border guards who have paid with their lives in trying to combat this trade for the benefit of people in this country and the rest of Europe. Have you taken into account the damage that might be caused to that co‑operation and therefore our ability to reduce opium flows to the UK, if the nuclear issues leads to a confrontation with Iran?

Mr Blair: We would prefer good relations with Iran, in part for the reasons you give and also because of our concerns about Iranian influence in the south of Iraq for example. But I do not think our desire for that good relationship can displace what is, I think, a legitimate concern about Iranian nuclear ambitions. They have an offer on the table now from the United States, which is what they have always wanted. They have always wanted the US to be part of the negotiation. We can have a proper negotiation with the Iranians, but they should come into line with their international obligations on the suspension of enrichment.

Sir George Young: Can I bring Andrew in on that specific point.

Q436 Andrew Miller: Prime Minister, you told us in February of the increased transatlantic co‑operation on Iran. With hindsight, is it not a shame that there was such a delay in getting an understanding between the US and Europe to create a concerted position? Would it not have been much more helpful if we had engaged with Iran about the nuclear issue a lot earlier?

Mr Blair: We tried to do this, Andrew. E3, that is Britain, France and Germany, have been working on this very closely, with America effectively giving its backing. My very strong view was that we had to take that further and actually say that America was prepared to join these negotiations. So far we have not had a lot of comeback from Iraq of a very helpful nature.

Q437 Andrew Miller: That I understand but domestically in Iran the President is building a nationalistic fervour around this, pointing out, as Phyllis has, that on the one hand the West wants our co‑operation on the drugs issue, and on the other does not want us to have our own domestic nuclear power policy. Have we not got ourselves into a position where it is going to be extremely difficult for Iranian authorities to come to an agreement without it being perceived domestically as them backing down?

Mr Blair: Well, we have tried to give them every ‑‑‑ for them the Americans joining this negotiation is a huge thing, so if they wanted to use that in order to say by suspending enrichment we have now brought the Americans to the negotiation, they could do it. It is not impossible for them to do that. I know there is a meeting that is to take place, it may even be tomorrow with Mr Larijani and the Europeans. I hope they take this opportunity because I agree with Phyllis it is important that we co‑operate with them, but this is part of a bigger issue, I am afraid.

Q438 Andrew Miller: But another interpretation of course could be that they have just been spinning us along whilst they perfect the enrichment technology?

Mr Blair: That is what some people think. I am prepared to go into every outer limit in order to give them the chance to disprove that.

Q439 Sir George Young: So how long have they got before they reply to this new package that you mentioned a moment ago?

Mr Blair: We have not set a deadline on it. There is not a great deal of detail that needs to be discussed, in a sense. It is a question of whether they are prepared to enter into a framework that allows them to develop civil nuclear power because that is fair enough for them to do that, but the safeguards that the international community seek to prevent that becoming a nuclear weapons programme have got to be adhered to. I think they know what the situation is fairly clearly. My worry is that they will make the mistake of thinking they can divide the international community where actually I do not think in the end that will happen.

Q440 Sir George Young: So you want to press for an early response?

Mr Blair: I would like a response as soon as possible because I do not really see what more there is to talk about.

Q441 Sir George Young: The end of the month?

Mr Blair: As I say, I do not set a deadline but it would be interesting if there was an indication given at tomorrow's meeting, for example, of where the Iranians really stood on this question.

Sir George Young: Can we move on Guantanamo and Mohammad Sarwar.

Q442 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, an FBI memo on Guantanamo Bay reported in the New York Times recently described incidents of abuse involving strangulation, beatings and the placing of lit cigarettes into detainees' ears. Three detainees out of despair have committed suicide last month. In a report last year Amnesty International called the camp "the Gulag of our times" and for it to be shut down. Our own Attorney General has called for Guantanamo Bay to be shut down. What is your response and what are you doing to ensure that Guantanamo Bay is shut down? That will probably give you the opportunity to disagree with the American administration loud and clear and probably give you some positive headlines for the British public!

Mr Blair: Thank you for the kind offer. Look, I have always made it clear that I think Guantanamo should close. The trouble is the Americans are going to have to work out what they do with the particular individuals there, and that has obviously been complicated by the Supreme Court ruling. I just hope people do look back and remember how all this arose. I find - if you will forgive me for a moment going back to Afghanistan - one of the most difficult things is people forgetting September 11 and why we are all talking about these issues today; we tend to forget about them. However, having said that, quite apart from anything else, I do not think it is sensible for the US to continue this for a moment longer than it need.

Q443 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, you described Guantanamo as an anomaly, the Attorney General has said it was unacceptable, do you agree with him?

Mr Blair: Well, obviously I agree with what I said myself. As for what the Attorney said, I have just said now, and in fact I have always said, I think it is better that it closed but there is a problem. This did arise out of the worst terrorist act the world has ever known and 3,000 people dying on the streets of New York.

Sir George Young: On a related theme, can we move on to US-UK relationships, Sir Patrick Cormack.

Q444 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister, it is reassuring to know you agree with yourself.

Mr Blair: It is not always the case actually, but anyway.

Q445 Sir Patrick Cormack: We cannot go into that at the moment. It is July 4 and perhaps we can look at the United States' relations with this country. You have forged a particularly close relationship with President Bush. As one of those who gave you strong support over Iraq, and I do not in any way regret that, I do feel that many things have gone perhaps not as you or I would have wished them. At your joint press conference on 26 May the President was really very apologetic over a number of areas, do you endorse that line?

Mr Blair: I think he was saying, which is his absolute right to say, that he regretted using certain phrases. I do not think he was meaning to regret the decisions that had been taken.

Q446 Sir Patrick Cormack: No, I am not suggesting he was.

Mr Blair: I have a different view from the view that many people take. I think September 11 was an attack upon the whole Western world. I think our right place was shoulder to shoulder with America, since then I have never changed my view. It was my view then, it is my view now. I think everything we have been discussing today around a whole series of related issues comes back to a fundamental question which is whether the West is prepared to stand up for its values that are not values to do with one religion or one race but are universal values.

Q447 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister, I hope that view will be widely echoed but because of your very strong support for the United States you were given a singular honour, you were given the Congressional Medal of Honour, no less, one of very, very few non United States citizens to have this great honour. You graciously accepted it but you have never been to collect it, why?

Mr Blair: I am always mystified when I am asked about this. I do feel a deep sense of honour that I have been awarded a Congressional Medal.

Q448 Sir Patrick Cormack: You have been to the States.

Mr Blair: Absolutely but, as I understand it, there is a ceremony which has to be gone through and I have got other pressing things to do, frankly.

Q449 Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sure they could lay it on next time you go over.

Mr Blair: I am sure they can. I do not quite know what people think, whether they think I am not accepting it because I am embarrassed to accept it, I am very honoured to have it. It is nonsense. It is not as if my support of America or my belief in the transatlantic alliance is a sort of well-kept secret. My view of this country in the early 21st century is you have got two big relationships, one is with Europe, the other is with America, keep both of them really strong.

Q450 Sir Patrick Cormack: Yes, we are very pleased you have got your gong.

Mr Blair: The Congressional Medal to me is not ---

Q451 Sir Patrick Cormack: It is symbolic, Prime Minister, so perhaps you will give this Liaison Committee a promise that next time you go over you will happily receive it.

Mr Blair: I do not think that I can give you that assurance because it depends what else I am doing. None of that should be taken as anything other than simply that I have got a busy agenda. It is not that I am in the least not bothered, I am clearly honoured to have it.

Q452 Sir Patrick Cormack: You are not normally bashful, it will not take very long.

Mr Blair: I do not know.

Q453 Sir Patrick Cormack: We await seeing you receive it with great interest. July 4 is the time to say you will take it.

Mr Blair: No doubt I will at some point but when that is, I do not know.

Q454 Mr Beith: When your press office allows you to.

Mr Blair: It has got absolutely nothing to do with that. It is to do with the fact you have to set time aside to do that. The last time I was in the States I was in and out pretty quickly and I had a big lecture to give at Georgetown University and, frankly, there are lots of other things to do.

Q455 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, on the point Sir Patrick raised about our relationship with the US, you have always made it clear that you have supported US policy not because you want anything in return but because you felt it was right.

Mr Blair: Correct.

Q456 Sir George Young: Nonetheless, on a number of key issues, the ITAR waiver, US-UK American Airline services, the imposition of steel tariffs, the day our marines went into Afghanistan, you must have been disappointed at the response from the United States to representations from yourself. Have you got as much out of the relationship as you had expected or hoped for?

Mr Blair: First of all, there are trade issues which have gone on forever and a day between the UK and America and that will continue. I think it is very worrying. We were talking about opinion polls earlier, I think some of the polls to do with this country's support for America are worrying to me, and attitudes to America. I think we should just realise that this relationship is one that we should be very proud of and very committed to. If people just think of the substitutes for the American relationship for a moment, I cannot see any, and I would be grateful to hear any suggestions of what they are. I can go and give you a list of things that I think we have managed to achieve, certain changes in policy as a result of what happens with America or not, but that is not the point, as you rightly say, it should not be done on the basis of what you get back, it should be done on the basis of what is right.

Sir George Young: Can we have a quick question on Israel and Palestine from Mike Gapes.

Q457 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, the situation in Gaza is extremely serious, can you update us on firstly what our Government is doing to try to deal with the situation but also when the Israelis withdrew unilaterally last year many people, and you were amongst them, said "Well, at least this is a step in the right direction". Does the current situation in Gaza not show the limitations of unilateralism on all sides?

Mr Blair: You are completely right. First of all, what we are doing is, along with other allies, trying to calm the situation, get the particular soldier released obviously, to make sure that what is happening to the Palestinians is also that there is a draw back on both sides because what is happening is ghastly and terrible. The one thing I would say, in this one respect I think there is a real issue to do with the West and the Muslim world. I think there is no more important issue to sort out than this. If we do not do our best as an international community to sort it out, and I do not think we are doing enough at the moment, then we will pay and I think we do pay a very heavy price in terms of our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. Now, none of that means to say I am anything other than a committed supporter of the existence of the state of Israel, because I am, but I think this will not be resolved, in my view, unless from the outside the international community and in particular the US grip the situation. This cannot be resolved simply by the two sides.

Sir George Young: Can we have a quick supplementary from Mohammad Sarwar.

Q458 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, Israeli air strikes against the infrastructure in Gaza, including the bombing of the territory's only power station and demolition of bridges, has led to the Palestinian people being deprived of power and water supply. This collective punishment has caused immense suffering to innocent men, women and children. Do you agree that this is the worst example of might is right and love generally?

Mr Blair: I agree with this, that unless we manage to get the situation into a different position then the Israelis are going to continue to take punitive action and the Palestinians are going to continue to have a burning sense of injustice. Now I have learned enough about this situation over the years to realise that going in and condemning either side is not deeply helpful. One plea I would make in this area, we were talking earlier about Northern Ireland, in respect of Northern Ireland the basic problem, which is why it has been a difficult negotiation, is that there is no agreement about the final negotiation. One part wants to be with the united Ireland, the other part wants to be with the United Kingdom. What frustrates me more than anything else about the Israeli-Palestinian situation is there is agreement about the final outcome. That is why I say the international community has just got to focus on this with a completely different order of magnitude because there is no reason why the Palestinians should not have their state, they are an incredibly industrious, hard-working people. The Diaspora of Palestinians around the world is testimony to that. Of course Israel has to protect its security. It is a situation where I really fear if we do not grip it as an international community then it is going to disintegrate, and it is going to disintegrate in circumstances where in fact there was agreement about the ultimate negotiation.

Q459 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, can I ask you a last question before I bring in John McFall for a final one. Over the last nine sessions we have asked you intensively about foreign policy. Much of it has been very controversial, it has precipitated Cabinet resignations, some of it has split your party, and it is a foreign policy with a very strong personal imprint. What assurance can anyone have that it might survive a leadership change?

Mr Blair: It depends on the person who takes the decisions. I may be wrong in this but I think the basic position of this country, and in particular its alliance with America, is something that any person who does the job will feel very strongly and very keenly. Personally I believe that we will continue it, and if I think of any of the potential successors I am sure that will be the case.

Q460 Mr McFall: Just to maintain that theme, Prime Minister, in terms of relations with US and Europe. The Treasury Committee is presently undertaking an inquiry into globalisation and we have visited both China and India. I think one of the main impressions that has been given to us is that the sheer scale, scope and spread of the changes is enormous. Whilst the rise of China and India is positive to the world economy as a whole, the benefits will be unevenly spread. We have seen the drift of manufacturing jobs in 2005, over one million to China from Europe, America and Japan and the competitive strength of China in manufacturing I think is unbeatable on that. Now the way we react in Europe and America will be most important in determining the future shape of both the US and the European economy. Some would say though that we are on the brink of a very distressing period both economically and environmentally and, indeed, socially. If we are to avoid the rise of protectionism, which we have seen in both the US and in Europe, and avoid negative international and foreign policy relations, what do we do about it? This is a prime for the next one.

Mr Blair: In a nutshell what we do is realise that whatever differences there are between America and Europe from time to time, what joins them together is infinitely more important. Whether it is on the world economy or on how we deal with extremism or how we defend values of democracy and tolerance, in the end America and Europe in my view should stick and stand together. If we do that, particularly with the rise of China that I believe, incidentally, is a benign development, do not misunderstand me but I think it is particularly important given the big change that will happen in geopolitics in the next few years, which is about the rise of China and then you have got India as well, of course, and other countries too, and Russia, it is just axiomatic to me that the Americans and the Europeans stick together. That is why I think this transatlantic alliance is so important. That is why I am absolutely sure really that it will always be of importance to this country. The reason why foreign policy has dominated so much of our discussion is that in today's world it is another consequence of globalisation, it is going to dominate policy. Domestic and foreign policy, the distinction between the two, in my view, has never been more blurred than it is today.

Q461 Chairman: Prime Minister, you initiated these series of meetings, and we have found them very valuable, whatever anyone else may think. The press are always cynical about what we do as parliamentarians. Would you recommend to a successor - since this is the first time a prime minister has been accountable to a committee of this House - that he should continue with these hearings in the light of your own experience?

Mr Blair: I think for my successor you can make them weekly!

Chairman: In that case long may you continue! Thank you, Prime Minister.