Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 12:28 GMT
Brown grilled: Point-by-point
The main points from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's appearance before the senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee, which lasted two and a half hours.
The session began with questions about whether Mr Brown would continue Tony Blair's reforms to public services.
He said these would, in fact, intensify in future, with "wider and deeper" reforms than in recent years.
He said services would be more tailored to meet the personal needs of individual citizens in areas such as social care, health and education.
He said there would be more one-to-one relationships between people and those who can help them such as teachers, nurses and advisors on welfare. He said there would be a growing role for the voluntary sector.
He said the role of the private sector was expanding, and would continue to expand, in areas such as health. Independent treatment centres will have diagnosed a million people by April of next year, Mr Brown added.
A forum had been set up to encourage more private operators to come into the health sector, he said, while a review had begun of the overall role of the private sector in the National Health Service, which was valued at £22bn.
Value-for-money would be the main test for independent healthcare providers at a local level as the capacity in the NHS was built up, he said.
Mr Brown said the state-assisted scheme for school places had not worked in the past and there should be no return to it as the current system was working far better at turning around "failing" schools, he said.
He said the government was moving "further and faster" in areas such as social care, health and education. "The culture of the second-best is not acceptable to me. It is a culture of excellence that we must achieve," Mr Brown said, emphasising that failure would be "rooted out".
Asked about efficiency targets, he said most Whitehall departments were being asked to make efficiency savings of 3%, a "big target" for them. But he said there was never any complacency about the need to cut budgets while ensuring that services were improved.
Asked about changing technology, Mr Brown said Britain, along with other countries, was realising that "so much more" had yet to be done to improve the use of information technology in public services.
"A better early-warning system" was needed to recognise "financial turbulence" around the world in light of the uncertainty currently being felt, Mr Brown said.
The issue of police pay was raised in the context of officers in Scotland getting a better pay deal this year than their colleagues in England. Mr Brown said public sector pay must be linked to "the state of the economy".
"I would love to pay the police more," he said, but no police officer would thank him if their pay rise was "wiped out" because "inflation was out of control".
Asked about police pay, he said that while people wanted to focus on a single pay award for the public sector, Mr Brown said it was important to remember the economy and the "national interest" to control inflation.
He said he "valued the police" and would like to pay officers more, just as he would like to increase the salaries of nurses and other people in similar roles, but keeping the economy in check was preferable to the type of "short-term political decisions" seen in the 1970s and 1980s, which led to too many "boom-to-bust" scenarios.
LOSS OF CHILD-BENEFIT DATA
Conservative MP Edward Leigh asked Mr Brown about "systemic failures" in the HM Revenue and Customs and whether the inquiry into the loss of CDs holding child-benefit data would be a good opportunity to review other problems within the department.
The prime minister said it was important to recognise the difference between a single case of "rules not being followed" and whether the department was running more or less effectively since being created in place of the former Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise offices.
"Nobody has lost any money" as yet following the loss of those discs, containing personal details - including bank account information - on some 25 million people, Mr Brown added.
Asked about constitutional changes proposed by Mr Brown, the prime minister said it was "essential" for citizens to be involved in discussions with the government about the major issues of the day.
"You cannot make decisions and assume that people will simply follow them. Most decisions can only be successful if people are part of the process."
On the value of local government, Mr Brown said that people wanted more control over their affairs at a local level but not necessarily by having their own regional assemblies.
Although they wanted the police and public services to be answerable to them, communities were organised in different ways and so it was not easy to have a blanket rule on how to hold such bodies to account.
CITIZENSHIP & "BRITISHNESS"
Asked to define the main characteristics of "Britishness", Mr Brown said fairness, the sense of liberty and the recognition of appropriate behaviour were among the common values which held UK society together.
In return for the right to be a British citizen - whether someone was born in the UK or moved from another country - people would have to accept certain responsibilities, the prime minister said.
A population the size of a country such as Brazil was moving around the world each year and it was only correct that certain conditions were laid down to those seeking citizenship or permanent residence in the UK, such as learning the English language, he added.
People should not forget the "shared identity" of the UK when talking about devolution and the option of an independent Scotland, Mr Brown said. When the Act of Union was signed in 1707, only 3% of Scots had relatives in England. Today that figure was 50%, he added.
"The bonds of belonging have strengthened over recent years," he said, suggesting that two-thirds of the population in Scotland and "large numbers" in Wales did not want to be independent from the rest of the UK.
The prime minister also cited a recent Sunday Telegraph poll suggesting that support in England for being part of a union was "very high indeed". He said that on an island, when dealing with issues such as the environment or terrorism, "the advantages of us working together are even clearer than in the past".
There would be far tougher measures to deal with those who came into the UK illegally, the prime minister said.
There were far more people in the rest of the world looking to move to different countries - 200 million a year, he claimed - so it was important that a "points" system was introduced to let the UK choose who was allowed to work there, while bearing in mind its responsibilities as an EU member.
Extremist parties such as the British National Party had to be opposed "head on" and members exposed for the offensive views they held on areas such as immigration, Mr Brown said.
There were now more people - 29 million - working within the British economy than at any point in recent years, he said. There were 600,000 vacancies in the UK at present, with 200 companies who were ready to seek employees from those people who were "inactive" in terms of work. He said it was the government's duty to ensure that British people were encouraged to seek these roles.
Communities experiencing rapid growth were aware of pressures on scarce public resources, Labour MP Phyllis Starkey said. There was a recognition of this issue by the government, which would do everything it could to ensure community cohesion, Mr Brown said.
Dr Starkey also asked the prime minister why employment rates among some minority ethnic groups were so low, saying the employment rate in the Somali community was 12%, five times lower than the average for migrants.
Sometimes people did not have the skills for the jobs they sought, or these roles were not available in their community, Mr Brown said. It was important to ensure people had a "better personal service" to ensure their skills improved so they felt confident enough to apply for the jobs they wanted.
The vast majority of immigrants from Eastern Europe were in employment, paying taxes and contributing to the economy, Mr Brown said.
Labour MP Rosemary McKenna asked what the government was doing to ensure migrants were "dispersed" across the UK so all parts of the country benefited from their skills. Mr Brown said this was happening and stressed that it was an important factor in balancing the economy. Opportunities outside of London had to be seen as exciting and attractive so that people were encouraged to move around the UK.
On the EU treaty, which will be signed in Lisbon on Thursday, Mr Brown said there were issues, such as justice and home affairs, where Britain was now able to choose if it wanted to opt out of the EU-wide stance and for UK parliamentarians to make their own decisions in these areas.
He said he was proposing changes on a European level, as an enormous amount of time had been spent looking at the institutional framework of a 27-member European Union, the prime minister said, and perhaps there had been an "over-emphasis" on areas such as constitutional affairs.
There could be no long-term resolution to the security of Afghanistan unless security on the border between that country and Pakistan was strengthened to deal with the threat of terrorism, Mr Brown said.
Helmand province was "the major source" for problems with narcotics because of poppy production. As well as talks with tribal chiefs, many people in Afghanistan had to be persuaded to seek alternative sources of income which did not involve the production of drugs, the prime minister added.
"A large number of people" could easily come under the influence of the Taleban
and its extremist views, unless they were shown alternative ways of life, said Mr Brown.
In Pakistan, he said it was important that the forthcoming elections were seen to be fair, and took place with a free media and without a state of emergency.
President Musharraf "had kept his promise" to end his 46-year career in the Army, but Mr Brown said other steps would still be needed to ensure that next month's poll for Parliament was held to an acceptable standard.
The enrichment of uranium was of concern in Iran, if that country was seeking to do so when there was no justifiable reason, Mr Brown said. This was because the process could quickly turn into the production of nuclear weapons.
The world was right to insist through the means of sanctions that Iran "came back into line" in terms of abiding by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, he added. He considered this to be the best way for Iran to build up support around the world. In the meantime, sanctions could take the form of financial restrictions, or supplies of oil and gas, he said.
On Kosovo, the prime minister said "supervised independence" was his preferred way of proceeding, and he hoped Serbia would accommodate the Kosovar population's wish to break free.
Asked about the Middle East peace process, he said there was a large group of countries now willing to contribute to the Palestinian economy. President Bush was going to visit Israel and the Middle East in the next month or so, and this would signify an important development in "relieving a lot of the poverty which was a major source of the tension" in the region, Mr Brown added.
He said a framework agreement looking at the most important issues was in place and had provided the basis for talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mrs McKenna asked about Russia's decision to expel the British Council from Moscow. Mr Brown said this was "totally unacceptable" and added the British Council "deserved to be supported" in its activities. Only Iran and Burma had taken a similar stance against the organisation in the past, he said.
When considering reforming Parliament's upper house, it should be remembered that "people were looking for a House of Lords that was accountable", while the House of Commons "remained the body regarded by the people as the more important part of the legislature", Mr Brown said.
Labour MP Tony Wright cited his party's 1992 manifesto which pledged fixed-term Parliaments, asking whether early elections should sometimes be called - a tongue-in-cheek reference to the widely expected poll which, in the end, was not called this year. Fixed-term Parliaments had not been policy since Labour lost the election 15 years ago, Mr Brown replied, laughing.
LIFE AS PRIME MINISTER
Asked if he was enjoying his job, the prime minister said he was "reading newspapers more but enjoying them less". There was a new challenge to deal with every day, and Mr Brown said he had faced "a series of challenges" - terrorism, floods, foot-and-mouth.
Laughing, he admitted he could not say these had been enjoyable, but all of them were part of the process of governing.
Mr Brown concluded the session by wishing the committee members a happy Christmas.
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