Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 19th June 2013.

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Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 12:43 pm, 19th June 2013

First of all, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about holding the conference in Northern Ireland. That was not without its difficulties and questions were asked, but not only was it a very successful and very well-managed and well-run conference—I pay tribute to everyone who was involved in it—but I think it was also one of the most peaceful G8s in terms of demonstrations. It was rumoured that one of the six tents in the place where all the tents were going to be put up belonged to some Dutch folk who happened to be on holiday. I also read this morning that one of the hopeful shopkeepers in Enniskillen had stocked up on vegan meals only to find that the protesters did not turn up in large enough numbers, so he now has a large supply going spare. It is a remarkable part of our country and it was good to bring the G8 to County Fermanagh.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said on the aid pledge. It is right that Britain has made and kept its promises, and we use that to bring others up to the mark. Of course, the G8 always publishes an accountability report. A lot of these communiqués are impenetrable, but this is very simple and straightforward on who has promised what and whether they have kept that promise. We should go on publishing those reports. I say to any sceptics that for every pound they pay in tax, only 1p of it goes to overseas aid. I think that that is a good investment in the future of the world.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the trade issue. It is good that we have made a start on EU-US trade and disappointing that we have not completed the Canada negotiations. He mentioned the single market. Of course, it is of benefit to Britain that we are in the single market as a trading nation and able to take part in deals with other parts of the world.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of public registries of beneficial ownership and asked why we had not achieved public registries everywhere. For many G8 Governments and leaders, this is a new issue at the top of the agenda. I am absolutely convinced that central registries of ownership are vital if we are to cut out corruption and corrupt payments from developing countries, and if we are to get to the bottom of tax evasion. We put that on the agenda, and every G8 country has agreed to an action plan, and some have committed to immediate registries. We must keep pushing on that agenda because it is so vital. We will consult on whether our registry should be public—I look forward to the consultation getting going—but no one should underestimate the importance of having a registry so that the tax authorities can get to grips with those problems.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about tax information change—yes, it will be open to poorer countries, but we must help them to take part and carry on with the programmes we have to help poorer countries to collect their taxes.

On Syria, the date of a conference was discussed, but the decision was taken that the most important thing is to get the substance right on the role of the transitional authority, its powers and such like, rather than set too quick a date, which might set us up to fail. Obviously, there is a real sense of urgency and we all want to see it happen in the weeks ahead.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the differences between Geneva I and the position we are now in. I would make two points to him on that. The Russians were backing off the idea of a transitional authority with full Executive powers, but have now fully reaffirmed it. That is important because no one wants to take part in negotiations that are for negotiations’ sake—they must be about something—and a transitional authority will not work unless it has full Executive power, including over the armed forces. As I said in my statement, the language and approach on chemical weapons is new, as is the language on humanitarian aid. Those new things were achieved at the G8.

I appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has tried to provide consensus on issues of foreign policy—we should always try to do that, and I hope we can re-forge that consensus in the months ahead—but the point I would make to him is this: I think that lifting the arms embargo in the EU was right. It sent a powerful signal that there is not a moral equivalence between Assad on the one hand and the official opposition, who want a democratic Syria, on the other. That has helped to add to the pressure. There is a huge danger that people will fall into the trap of believing Assad’s argument, which is that the only alternative to him is terrorism and extremism. We should stand for something else in the House and in this country—we should stand up for people who want democracy, freedom and the sorts of things we take for granted right here.