Engagements
Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
11:30 am

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Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 28 June.

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

Before I list my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences and sympathy to the families of the two British soldiers killed in Afghanistan yesterday. They were fighting the Taliban, and they were brave and committed soldiers. This country can be very proud of the work that they were doing.

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.

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Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

I am sure that the whole House will associate itself with those sentiments.

I thank the Prime Minister for endorsing efforts to find a cure for motor neurone disease, which kills one UK resident every eight hours. His support is welcome and hugely valued, but is he aware that, in the past five years, for every £337,000 that the Government spent in research per diagnosed case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, they invested a mere £108 in research per diagnosed case of MND? Will he therefore ask Health Ministers to meet the Motor Neurone Disease Association and give equal priority to curing that disease? Will he also back our efforts to raise £15 million for a research fund to rid the world of this terrible disease?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

First, I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has done on behalf of the MNDA, and I thank him for arranging my recent meeting with him and the association. We fully support the efforts to raise the money required, and I shall pass his remarks on to the relevant Ministers. Much of the funding comes through the Medical Research Council, but he is right that there is a clear gap between the amount of money spent on research into CJD and what is spent on MND. We shall therefore look to see what more we can do.

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Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen, Labour)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, 30 years on from the introduction of the Equal Pay Act by a Labour Government, the winner of the Wimbledon women's singles competition will receive £30,000 less in prize money than the winner of the men's singles? Wimbledon is the only grand slam competition in which that happens. Will he support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in her efforts to persuade the Lawn Tennis Association to put that inequality right?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

I was somewhat coy about that yesterday, as I did not realise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport had pronounced on the matter already. Therefore, I am happy to be bolder today, to welcome what she said, and to endorse it fully.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

May I echo what the Prime Minister said about the two young soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan? Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

When asked about the need to replace Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, the Prime Minister said at that Dispatch Box last week that he wanted the fullest possible debate, and that a decision would be taken later in this Parliament. That afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer went around saying that he had made a decision and that it would be announced later this year. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the Chancellor was up to?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

It was made clear in the Labour manifesto that we are committed to maintaining the independent nuclear deterrent, and I have also said that we think that it is right to do so. A decision will be taken in this Parliament, and that will happen later this year. It is important that Britain makes sure that it can defend itself properly. I believe that an independent nuclear deterrent is an essential part of that.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

In his speech, the Chancellor repeated what was in Labour's manifesto, but he went around briefing something completely different. The BBC's political editor said that he wished the Chancellor

"would use code and spin less and speak in plain English a little more. Then we could focus on the real debate."

One of the things that the Chancellor said was that there should be a vote. So will the Prime Minister tell us, in plain English, will the House of Commons have a vote on whether Trident is replaced?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House dealt with that during business questions last week. He said, rightly, that we will of course consult the House fully. The method of doing so will be announced at the time when we publish the White Paper. I can assure Mr. Cameron that there will of course be the fullest possible debate, as there would have to be.

I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to debate today the policy he announced yesterday on the Bill of Rights. Since we are having a debate, at long last, on policy, I thought he might want to debate one of his.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

It is a simple enough question: the Chancellor wants a vote and the Education Secretary has said there ought to be vote; can we have a vote in the House?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

I have already explained that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made the position clear last Thursday. That is the position, and we will announce the means of consultation when we publish the White Paper. Of course, we believe it is extremely important to have the fullest possible debate on the subject.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

The Prime Minister is saying one thing and the Chancellor briefing another. Is not this part of a wider problem? Is not there a danger that the Prime Minister is becoming the David Brent of Downing street—utterly redundant, he is just hanging round the office?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

What we are doing is setting out policies for the long-term future of the country, on, for example, a stable economy, on the new deal to help cut unemployment further, on child care and on pensions. The energy review will be published shortly, and there is the NHS reform programme. All those are substantial policies for the future of the country.

What happens to the right hon. Gentleman when he makes a policy decision? He has one on foreign policy—to withdraw from the European People's party. He finally announced a domestic policy—his own Bill of Rights—which was denounced by the chairman of his own democracy commission as xenophobic legal nonsense. I am surprised, when he has just announced a major change to the British constitution, that he does not want to get up and debate it. Come on.

Direction is about policy. [Interruption.] I am happy to debate our policies, I am happy to debate the right hon. Gentleman's policies, and I am happy to have a policy debate. He has two questions left; let us debate policy.

Hon. Members:

More!

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Gwyn Prosser (Dover, Labour)

Everyone accepts the need to deal with surplus school places in a rational manner. What has the Prime Minister to say, however, about Conservative-controlled Kent county council and its crude action to close or merge nine schools in Dover, nearly a quarter of the primary schools in my constituency? Does he think that represents lack of planning, lack of imagination or just lack of care?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it does not involve lack of money, because we have put vast sums into education in Kent and elsewhere in the country, all of which, of course, the Conservative party voted against. He is also absolutely right to say that primary schools have made enormous progress in the past few years, and I should deeply regret anything that put that at risk.

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Menzies Campbell (Party Leader; North East Fife, Liberal Democrat)

I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of condolence and sympathy that we have just heard from the Prime Minister.

Given the urgency of the hostage crisis and the significance of the role of the United States in the middle east, has the Prime Minister discussed the present situation with the President of the United States?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

We discuss issues to do with the middle east, Israel and Palestine every time I speak to the President. I have not spoken to him in the past 24 hours or so, but those things are a major part of any conversation we have. We both believe it extremely important to make sure that we restart a peace process that is the only way to stop events such as the terrible events of the past 24 hours. In the end, what is necessary, obviously, will be to make sure that peace and calm are restored so that there is some possibility of getting negotiation going.

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Menzies Campbell (Party Leader; North East Fife, Liberal Democrat)

I think the Prime Minister will agree that this is a particularly crucial moment, so what joint actions will he and the President take to capitalise on the apparent willingness of Hamas to accept a negotiated settlement and a two-state solution? It would be a tragedy if that possibility of progress were derailed by the hostage crisis.

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

I think I understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. If Hamas is prepared to commit itself to a two-state solution and to negotiate a settlement, that necessarily must mean that it is committed to the existence of Israel, to the renunciation of violence, and to negotiation as a way of achieving that settlement. If Hamas were clear on those issues and if it was prepared to return to the road map, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends used to ask me to endorse and carry forward—as I still want to do—I can assure him, not just on my own behalf but on behalf of the President as well, that America—the Quartet—would be willing to take the process forward as swiftly as possible. But if we are negotiating a two-state solution, we need to know that both sides to the negotiation are committed to the existence of the other state.

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Ann Keen (PPS (Rt Hon Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer), HM Treasury; Brentford and Isleworth, Labour)

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the decision of the Conservative councillors in Hounslow to share power with a group led by Phil Andrews, a former parliamentary candidate for the National Front? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that decision is not consistent with statements from leaders of all parties condemning all racist organisations?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

I am sure that all party leaders most sincerely condemn racism of any sort. I do not know about the situation in my hon. Friend's constituency, but it would of course be deeply regrettable if anyone was in alliance with people who do not conform to the principles to which I hope we all conform.

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Annette Brooke (Children & the Family, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities; Mid Dorset and North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

In light of the Prime Minister's avowed priority for victims of crime, will he ensure that therapeutic services are available for all children who experience sexual abuse and indeed for children who exhibit sexually harmful behaviour who may have been abused themselves? That would be in line with the recommendations of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on the issue.

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

I would like an update, to send to the hon. Lady, about exactly what we are doing in the area of therapeutic treatment for the victims of sexual abuse. I can tell her that we have significantly increased funding for Victim Support and for the whole range of NHS therapeutic services, but I would like to acquaint myself with the actual details of what we are doing in that area and send them to her.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

I am sure that the Prime Minister would accept that the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty commits this country and all other declared nuclear powers to long-term disarmament. In light of that, will he explain why the Government are even considering an extension to, or a replacement for, Trident? Should not we seize this historic opportunity to start a process of nuclear disarmament around the world?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

We do an immense amount in that area, and there is nothing inconsistent in renewing our independent nuclear deterrent and in being in favour of non-proliferation. My hon. Friend's remarks are an indication that the debate will be lively.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

Ministers are meeting tomorrow in Geneva to try to resolve the vital world trade talks. When I last asked the Prime Minister about the talks, he said that failure in the Doha development round would be a disaster, and I agree. Given that Oxfam says that there are still 760 areas of disagreement, how confident is the Prime Minister that we will make progress this weekend?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

It is obviously immensely difficult. However, we are working very closely, in particular with the German Government of Chancellor Merkel and with the Brazilians, to try to find a way forward. In addition, I spoke recently to Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, and we talked through the various outstanding issues, but, yes, a lot of movement will be needed from all areas—from Europe on agriculture, from America on subsidies, from Brazil and the G20 countries on non-agricultural market access—and we will do everything we can to make sure that progress is maintained.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

Clearly, a reduction in agricultural protection is absolutely key to those talks. Although our headline offer appears to be a 39 per cent. cut in tariffs, there are concerns that when it is applied in practice it will mean a lot less; in fact, one estimate, based on figures from economists at the World Bank, is that it would, in effect, mean an average cut of only 1 per cent. Does the Prime Minister agree that that would be completely inadequate?

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Tony Blair (Prime Minister; Sedgefield, Labour)

Yes, I do, which is why I think that it is important that we all go further. But I should say to the right hon. Gentleman that exactly the same calculations could be made in relation to some of the other offers that are made by the G20 on non-agricultural market access and in relation to the American offer in terms of agricultural subsidy. I am afraid that, in every single part of this, there are still outstanding issues that have to be resolved. That is why—certainly prior to the G8 and possibly at the G8—I will be arguing very strongly that the leaders need to put pressure on all the different systems to go far further.

In my view, it would be a disaster not just for world trade and for the development package that we want to see, but for the whole multilateral system, if the WTO went down. That is precisely why, as I say, that has been a constant part of my dialogue not just with America, but most particularly with the German Government, who share our view that failure in this area would be deeply regrettable for the whole of the international system.

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Adrian Bailey (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; West Bromwich West, Labour)

What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact on community relations of the alliance between the former British National party organiser Steve Edwards and the Conservative candidate in Tipton in the last local elections—

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Michael Martin (Speaker)

Order. That is not the Prime Minister's responsibility. I am sure that he is pleased to hear that.