Liaison Committee Meeting for PM
Comment at end
[Key: “ppm”=present prime minister]
MPs’ Six Month Test For Brown – Liaison Committee
Since this meeting was so important that the ppm couldn’t or wouldn’t organise a change of date, and so he missed the other little thing – the signing of EU Lisbon Treaty – I thought we’d better see what was so important it couldn’t be moved to another day.
I’m sorry I can’t say I watched it live. I really can’t force myself to watch paint dry, especially near Christmas, when time is short. So here is a report from Sky’s Adam Boulton. When I find the official full report I’ll link it here.
Gordon Brown has faced questions this morning from MPs on the Commons’ Liaison Committee about his first six months as Prime Minister.
: He said Russian action on the British Council was “totally unacceptable.”:: The point system would give Britain a choice over who could come into the country.
:: Mr Brown said the economy had benefitted from immigration, but said Britain needed a set of rules that would guarantee the right people come into the country.
:: On public sector pay, especially police pay, Mr Brown defended the Government’s strategy saying: “I would love to pay police more. But no policeman would thank me if their pay rise was wiped out by rising inflation we couldn’t control and we ended up in a situation of global financial turbulence and we couldn’t cut interest rates because inflation was out of control.”
:: On the union, he said the bonds that held Britain together were stronger than ever. “Whatever the day-to-day politics and day-to-day calculations of politicians, I think you will find that people see that in the United Kingdom and in the British identity that they have, a great deal of strength for the years to come.”
:: On immigration he said: “If somebody comes to our country, I think it is also right to say that if they are applying for citizenship of our country, or even the right to be a permanent resident of our country, they also have to accept responsibilities.”
:: Mr Brown said nothing was “off-limits” in the discussion about constitutional reform.
:: Credit rating agencies would have to be more transparent and there needed to be greater co-operation between countries to create co-ordinated responses to difficulties in the world economy.
:: On the downturn in the global economy, the Prime Minister said it had been a wake-up call. “I do believe the existing institutions are not good enough,” he said. “I will make it my business to try and reform these institutions to make them better able to deal with the kinds of problems we have got.”
:: Mr Brown said the Government was trying to tackle failing schools. “What parents hate most of all,” he said, “is when a parent has no choice but to send a child to a failing school.”
:: Mr Brown said the review into the loss of data at HMRC was due to report back tomorrow and that the Chanellor Alistair Darling would make a statement on it next week.
:: Public Accounts Committee chairman Edward Leigh said he hoped the Government would use the loss of 25 million people’s personal data as an opportunity to improve the system at HMRC.
:: Businesses, both large and small, preferred to deal with one department than two, he said.
:: Mr Brown defended the decision to merge Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue into HM Revenue and Customs.
:: “We are only now are aware of the explosive power of information if properly co-ordinated to make a difference, but we have to get better systems in place.”
:: He said the Government still had a “long way to go” on data and IT issues.
:: The private and independent sectors would have to demonstrate that it represented good value for money.
:: The independent sector’s role in public services would continue to expand, he said.
:: “It’s not just about public services, but about personal services.”
:: Gordon Brown said there would be more focus as one on one relationships in services.
:: He was asked if public service reform would change under his stewardship. The Prime Minister replied that the pace of reform would intensify and “widen and deepen”.
:: Mr Brown began with a joke saying it was a pleasure to be attending the committee and that the members “can see the priority that I attach to be here”…a reference to his trip to Lisbon to sign the EU Reform Treaty immediately after the meeting.
And six months before, there was the man who first thought of it.
The Prime Minister has faced his last grilling from the Commons Liaison Committee of senior MPs in his final full week in office.
Fittingly, it was Tony Blair who introduced the twice-yearly hearings in 2002 to give the committee – made up of select committee chairmen – a chance to question him in detail on a range of policy issues.
During the questioning, Mr Blair defended his decision to invade Iraq alongside US forces.
He said: “What country has ever chosen not to be a democracy? Democracy and freedom are universal values of the human spirit and always will be.”
Mr Blair asked the MPs to ponder the consequences of not intervening, like in Rwanda where millions died.
“Of course, I accept a deep and profound responsibility for what has happened and anybody who has ever sent people into action, particularly when our troops are killed, and doesn’t feel the weight of that responsibility is not a human being. And I am a human being.”
Mr Blair also rejected criticism of his so-called “sofa government”, insisting major decisions had been agreed by the full Cabinet.
“All of the major public service reforms we’ve done in the last few years have been not just through Cabinet committees but Cabinet itself, with detailed discussion on it,” he said.
Mr Blair also dismissed any suggestion that previous prime ministers had not held private discussions in No 10.
“I don’t believe, having done this job, I am the first prime minister that has also discussed issues with a few people who work closely with me, or with individual Cabinet ministers,” he told the committee.
This week will also see the Prime Minister chair his final Cabinet meeting in Downing Street on Thursday.
And he will make his valedictory appearance on the international stage when he attends the EU summit in Brussels.
Mr Blair will finally draw down the curtain on a decade in power on Wednesday of next week – June 27.
He will tender his resignation to the Queen and hand over the reins of power to the current Chancellor Gordon Brown.
In case you’ve forgotten – and how could you! – watch how Blair handled these meetings, without notes and without colleagues by his side for support. (Click the video on the right of the page)
When he had finished this last one, anyone watching live, and I did – how could I not! – would have seen the nods of approval and words of admiration from all the chairmen of the committees. And the chairman of the liaison committee itself- Alan Williams – thanked Tony Blair gracefully and sincerely for his contributions. He it was, who on Blair’s last day as Prime Minister, said, “he has been the most politically successful prime minister in my lifetime”.
Some of us knew what we had, BEFORE he was gone.
But at the Liaison Committee meeting, it wasn’t all easy, non-judgemental stuff. These people are the chairmen of the major House of Commons committees, and they come from ALL parties. They are no walkover.
There was stiff questioning for Mr Blair about Iraq. For example, from Tony Wright, Labour MP – “Isn’t it a tragedy that you happened to find yourself as British Prime Minister when the crazies were in the White House”.
I don’t know if Wright really believed that “crazies” jibe, or whether, as someone who seems to support Blair, he thought he’d better ask it rather than allow someone else to.
But Blair answered all these quesions, imho, directly and convincingly. He never evaded or dodged around the issues, contrary to others’ facile accusations of him. He made it clear that, regardless of the fears or worries over preparation or lack of, the absolute key to this is that the planning was not the problem. That, in his opinion, is not what has created the problem. “The people we are fighting have created the problem. They have decided that if they can hang on long enough then we will lose the will.”
Of course, we can expect the people we are fighting to create the problem. But his subsequent remarks clarified and extended further on this. We should understand. Sadly many of us still do not.
Transcript of Blair’s last Liaison Committee meeting.