HC Deb 09 July 2003 vol 408 cc1150-7
Ql. [124287] Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Brown

An excellent new Macmillan cancer centre is soon to open in Dumfries and Galloway Royal infirmary. At the last meeting of the all-party group on cancer, much was said about that kind of investment in cancer care. However, the group did express concern that we need additional cancer nurses or nurses who are better trained in cancer care. Keeping in mind that around 30 per cent. of the population will experience a cancer-related illness in their lifetime, does the Prime Minister feel that we need more training that includes a specific module on cancer care?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the excellent work by Macmillan Cancer Relief. He is right to say that we need to train more cancer nurses. That is why we are making such a huge investment in our national health service at the present time. As a result of that extra investment, people are being diagnosed quicker and treated quicker. More money is being invested. Over the past few years, cancer deaths in this country have fallen by almost 9 per cent. That is why it is important that that extra investment keeps going into our national health service.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee says that the Prime Minister should apologise to Parliament for misrepresenting the status of the second dossier. Will he do that now?

The Prime Minister

The Foreign Secretary has already apologised on behalf of the whole Government for the mistake that was made. I do not accept, in any shape or form, that the information in that second briefing was wrong. Actually, those parts of it that were based on intelligence were, indeed, based on intelligence.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Let me remind the Prime Minister what the report said. It said that the Prime Minister, in saying that the report was "further intelligence", misrepresented its status and … made a bad situation worse. The Chairman went on to say that when a Minister misleads Parliament, even inadvertently, he should come to the House of Commons and apologise. Why is it that, for this Prime Minister, sorry seems to be the hardest word?

The Prime Minister

On 10 February, we made it quite clear that we acknowledged the mistake that one part of the briefing paper—one part of it—should have been sourced to a written record of a review that was published some time before. That part of it that was expressed to be based on intelligence was, indeed, based on intelligence. So I am afraid that I do not accept that Parliament was misled in any way at all.

Let me just say this to the right hon. Gentleman. The intelligence on which we based both the September dossier and that February briefing was intelligence that was specifically shared with him by our intelligence services. If he is now disputing any of that intelligence, perhaps he would say so.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The Prime Minister knows I was given no sight of that dossier. I was not even contacted about it. The first I knew about that dossier in February was when I found out about it in the newspapers, so he can retract that for a start. [Interruption.] Oh yes. Until the Prime Minister accepts that he misrepresented the status of the second dossier to Parliament and apologises, trust in him will plummet and no one will believe a word he says anymore.

The Prime Minister

First, my understanding is that the right hon. Gentleman was briefed on Iraq by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee on 18 September and again on 12 February. I have said to him that the intelligence that we put forward was shared with him.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Bacon, it is not for you to shout at the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Order. I always pick out the one who is loudest.

The Prime Minister

I said that the intelligence on which we based both the dossier and the February briefing was shared with the Leader of the Opposition at briefings on 18 September and 12 February. That intelligence was not, as the shadow Foreign Secretary keeps saying, given to the Leader of the Opposition orally by me; it was given by the intelligence services. Perhaps he would just confirm whether that is right or wrong.

Hon Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Khabra.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

In light of the recent case of Dame Shirley Porter allegedly owing Westminster council £37 million, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government are able to take any action to ensure that offshore assets can be made more transparent?

The Prime Minister

I want to be careful how I answer that because there may be legal proceedings on that subject, but I can simply say that I shall certainly look into the matter and get back to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

On a previous occasion the Prime Minister replied to me that the nine UK citizens being held at Camp Delta could not remain there indefinitely, but he must recognise equally that he cannot give that reply indefinitely. How long must UK citizens be left to languish in this legal no-man's-land?

The Prime Minister

I agree that obviously there has to be a point in time when the issue is brought to an end. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the United States is now talking about the right method by which to try anybody against whom charges would be brought. We will make active representations to the United States—indeed, we are already doing so—to make absolutely sure that any such trial will take place in accordance with proper international law.

Mr. Kennedy

Since I last raised the matter with the Prime Minister, those representations to the American authorities have fallen on deaf ears. Two of these British citizens may imminently face very serious charges but, he must surely acknowledge, they are not aware of what those charges are and they will be tried in a military tribunal. If they agree to plead guilty, they may be able to escape the death penalty, but if they do not, and are found guilty, they could face the death penalty. If they are not found guilty, the Americans could still choose to detain them as potential combatants. Just how long will the Prime Minister find that state of affairs acceptable, and what does that say for British influence, which he heralds, over the Americans?

The Prime Minister

It is of course important that the commission that tries these people is conducted according to proper rules. Those rules have not yet been drawn up, and it is precisely for that reason that we are making active representations, and our opposition to the death penalty is well known.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

On that point, my constituent, Feroz Abbasi, has been held in Guantanamo bay for 18 months without charge, and he now faces the prospect of a military tribunal in which he will not be able to appoint his own defence lawyer or to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and he may face the death penalty following a decision behind closed doors.

Have the Government applied for the repatriation of my constituent to face a fair trial in Britain, and will my right hon. Friend now press to have all the evidence against Feroz Abbasi supplied to the Government, so that we may press charges and apply for an extradition order under our terrorism legislation? Feroz Abbasi could then face a fair trial and be punished if guilty, and the rule of law and human rights would prevail.

The Prime Minister

What my hon. Friend says must be right. If charges are brought, they must be proved in accordance with proper rules of evidence. As he rightly says, the charges are serious. It is worth remembering that the allegations revolve around what happened in Afghanistan some time ago, when British and American troops were putting their lives at risk there. However, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—there must be no question about this at all. Any commission or tribunal that tries these men must be conducted in accordance with proper canons of law so that a fair trial takes place and is seen to take place.

Q2. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

On another matter, when the Prime Minister talked about delivery targets last Thursday, he said: Maybe we have too many". What delivery targets would the Prime Minister scrap, and what target has he set for delivering that?

The Prime Minister

Actually, we have reduced to a third the original number of targets in the first comprehensive spending review. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman about the targets that I would not scrap but which, apparently, the Conservatives would—[Interruption.] Oh yes, we will certainly not scrap targets for reducing waiting times and waiting lists for patients. We will not scrap our target for 50,000 extra nurses and we will not scrap our targets for extra investment in schools and hospitals. We will not do so because it is right that that investment is made.

Q3. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

Given that so much crime is fuelled by drug addiction, even in a place like York, which has 250 drug addicts in rehabilitation at any one time, what are the Government doing to expand their range of policies to tackle drug abuse and fund the many agencies involved in delivering that strategy?

The Prime Minister

First, we are increasing investment by about half a billion pounds over the next few years. We are also increasing the use of drug treatment and testing orders, and are trying to make sure by increasing the number of people who receive drug treatment for their drug abuse that we reduce the prevalence of the link between drug abuse and crime. My hon. Friend is right—the link between drugs and crime is hugely important, which is precisely why we are making additional investment in both the criminal justice system and drug treatment—[Interruption.]

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

They are cheering him now, but they will be voting against him tomorrow. After last night's massive Labour rebellion on foundation hospitals, can the Prime Minister say whether he intends to press ahead with the legislation on top-up fees?

The Prime Minister

We remain absolutely committed to the Government's position on that issue.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Well, can the Prime Minister now tell the House whether he intends to rely on the votes of Scottish Labour MPs, even though top-up fees, like foundation hospitals, have been rejected by his own party in Scotland?

The Prime Minister

I find it absolutely extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should say that Scottish and Welsh MPs are not able to vote on UK legislation passed in this House—[Interruption.] This is the UK Parliament, and if he is saying that the position of the Conservative party is that Scottish and Welsh MPs can no longer vote on English business, is it also his position that, if devolution is up and running again in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland MPs cannot vote on it?

Mr. Duncan Smith

The Prime Minister is reduced to getting MPs who will not even be affected by this change to drive through his legislation for England. He is ploughing on, despite the fact that every single Labour MP stood on a manifesto that said that they would not introduce top-up fees. Is that not the reason why he has lost the trust of both the British people and, increasingly, his own party? Nobody believes a word he says any more.

The Prime Minister

We now have as official Conservative policy the belief that no one from Scotland, Wales or, indeed, if devolution is up and running, Northern Ireland, can vote on English issues—and they call themselves the Conservative and Unionist party. I think that the right hon. Gentleman needs to think that one through a little more carefully.

As for university finance, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what would be a disaster—cutting £500 million off the university budget and, according to the higher education institute, having half a million fewer students by 2010. He wants fewer people going to worse-funded universities, which would be a disaster for the country.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest concern for all our constituents remains antisocial behaviour, such as when youths congregate at cash dispensers and on street corners deliberately to intimidate? I ask him to reassure the House today that he and his Government will fund totally and fully all the proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Will he, along with me and my constituents, criticise the Liberal Democrats for opposing the Bill?

The Prime Minister

It is, of course, remarkable that the Liberal Democrats are opposing measures on antisocial behaviour, including on-the-spot fines, which I believe will be supported by the vast majority of people in this country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: these measures on antisocial behaviour are important and we will fund them properly. There are already record numbers of police officers, but they need the powers to deal with these issues. It is to the shame of the Liberal Democrats that they are voting against them.

Q4. Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater)

Given the importance of the Green Paper on child protection and the difficulty that the Prime Minister is having with his diary, will he consider giving up a day of his holiday in Barbados or even 45 minutes to launch the paper?

The Prime Minister

We will continue funding nursery education and the sure start proposals and we are continuing to put money into the early years learning of our children. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what we will not do. When millions of people are getting the benefit of these proposals throughout the country, we will not follow his policy of 20 per cent. cuts across the board.

Q5. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Reverting to earlier questions, is my right hon. Friend aware that, when the exchanges took place on Monday about the two British nationals to be tried by the United States, there was strong criticism from all sides? Should not he be making far stronger representations and tell the Americans that, yes, we are allies in the fight against terrorism and that we intend to remain allies, but we shall also uphold the rule of law? Those two British citizens should be tried here if there are any charges to be made against them. Put your foot down, Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

Certainly, my hon. Friend is right that those people should be tried in accordance with proper international law, and we will ensure that that is true. I simply say to him, however, that the precise nature of this trial has not yet been formulated. Therefore, it is important that we wait and see whether indeed our representations have been heeded.

Q6. Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)

The Criminal Records Bureau is blaming its disclosure fee and tight targets for its terrible performance. Last week, the fee doubled, the targets were scrapped and the disclosure deadline was kicked into the long grass. Who is responsible for this Horlicks, which is affecting so many of our constituents, and what is the Prime Minister doing about it?

The Prime Minister

The actual output of the Criminal Records Bureau has improved significantly over the past few months, but I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that most people accept that we have got to have some system of checks. It has been difficult to establish the Criminal Records Bureau and to get it working in the way that we want, but it is working far better now than in the past few months. I think that a lot of people would be dismayed and that we would be attacked by the Opposition if we were to get rid of the Criminal Records Bureau.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the international education tables that were recently published? They showed that Britain is now occupying position No. 8 with regard to the quality of education in our schools. Will he comment on the importance of the extra assistance that goes into classrooms to ensure that schools, and particularly those facing hard challenges, have higher behaviour standards to ensure that we continue to rise in the international league table and to show how much importance that we attach to not undermining schools by criticising them, which happens in some areas of this country?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right, of course, that the additional investment is lifting school standards. We now have the best school results that we have ever had in this country. In particular, the large number of classes of more than 30 pupils has been significantly reduced, indeed practically eliminated. We have also made sure that, in primary schools in particular, but also in secondary schools, that extra investment is yielding the results. I think that we can be proud of much of what is happening in our education system. I know that there have been problems in school funding this year because of additional requirements in relation to pensions and teachers' pay and also the additional investment that is being made, but the worst thing that could happen to our schools now would be to roll back that improvement and investment in future.

Q7. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister told me: It is worth pointing out the fact that, when we finally won the conflict in Iraq, some of the people who were still offering resistance were extremists from Chechnya."—[Official Report, 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 355.] Invited to support that fact with evidence in a written answer, the Foreign Office could not do so other than by reference to unsubstantiated reports. We do know, however, that none of the captives in Guantanamo bay is Chechen, although nine are British, and that British forces did not encounter any Chechens in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Should the British Prime Minister be prepared to blacken the name of an entire people on the basis of unsubstantiated reports; and will he withdraw that statement unless and until he has evidence to support it?

The Prime Minister

First, in relation to what I said about Iraq, I was referring to the reports to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention. I accept that it may be some time before we can be sure that those reports are correct.

Secondly, in respect of Afghanistan, there are several reports about Chechen fighters being found in Afghanistan. I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that Chechen extremism is well documented. I agree that, as he has said to me on previous occasions, it is important that the human rights of people in Chechnya are properly respected. However, I think that he would accept, would he not, that elements of fundamentalist extremist groups in Chechnya have carried out appalling terrorist atrocities in respect of people in Russia?

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

As we move from the first flush of youth into early middle age, we bring experience and wisdom to our jobs and like to think that our increasing age adds to what we can contribute to our constituents. When will the Government end the iniquity of age discrimination in our work force once and for all?

The Prime Minister

We are planning to take action against age discrimination. My hon. Friend may be a beneficiary of that: who knows?

Q8. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

If the Iraq survey group has still not found weapons of mass destruction by the end of Parliament's summer recess, will the Prime Minister come to this House and make a statement along the same lines as the statement made by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)—a resignation statement?

The Prime Minister

As I said to the Liaison Committee yesterday, why do we not allow the Iraq survey group to carry out its work? As I told the Committee, I have no doubt at all that the intelligence that we received was accurate. The view of some people that the whole issue of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is an invention of the CIA or British intelligence is absurd. The fact is that we know that when the inspectors left at the end of 1998, a huge amount of weaponry was unaccounted for. The proposition of the hon. Gentleman and others like him is simply this: that Saddam—having brought sanctions and military action on himself, and with all the problems that he had—voluntarily, having chucked the inspectors out, got rid of the weapons. I do not believe that thesis, and I am sure that the Iraq survey group will prove it to be wrong.

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