Press release

Press briefing given by Prime Minister David Cameron in Amritsar

"I'm delighted with the state of relations between Britain and India."

Prime Minister 

I’m delighted with the state of relations between Britain and India.  I think there’s been really good progress on lots of the economic, trade and commercial ties; a lot of interest in healthcare, education, energy, infrastructure.  All the feedback I’ve had from the enormous business delegation I thought has been very positive.  I think they’ve really enjoyed the visit and found it worthwhile.  I have very good relations with Prime Minister Singh, who I’ve now met a lot of times, and we’ve had a very good, detailed, strategic conversation, particularly about a whole range of foreign policy and security issues.  Just the sort of dialogue Britain and India should be having. 

I thought today was fascinating and illuminating.  To go to a place that is so central to the Sikh religion and so important to Sikhs and Punjabis all over the world is a really good thing to do.  Obviously it’s very moving as well going to the site of the massacre.  I’m proud to be the first British Prime Minister to visit the Golden Temple and see what an extraordinary place it is, how very moving, very serene, very spiritual.  I thought it was a huge honour and a great thing to be able to do.  I learned a lot.

Question

Just to begin on empire and the concept of it a little bit, what are your feelings towards empire?  Can you still say, hand on heart, you’re still very proud of the country’s history here?

Prime Minister

Yes, I think there’s an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British Empire did and was responsible for, but of course there were bad events as well as good events.  The bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate.  As I was asked the question yesterday, in terms of our relationship with India, is our past a help or a handicap, I would say that it’s a help because of the shared history, culture, the things that we share and also the contributions the Indians talk about that we’ve made.  Obviously where there are bad events, we have to remember them, be clear about them and learn from them.

 Question

Obviously you’ve been to Amritsar.  You’ve atoned for the sins of the past.  Do we need to take any further steps?  Returning the Koh-i-Noor has been another very popular standing point.  Would you like to see that happen?

Prime Minister

I don’t think that is the right approach.  It’s the same question with the Elgin Marbles and all these other things.  I think the right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions in Britain is to do exactly what they do, which is link up with museums all over the world to make our collections - to make sure that the things that we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world.  No, I certainly don’t believe in returnism, as it were.  I don’t think that is sensible. 

Question

Yes, Prime Minister, you said the other day that you regretted the fact that so many people who’d been involved in the Mid Staffordshire situation had gone on to other jobs in the NHS.  Why is David Nicholson still in a job?

Prime Minister

First of all, I think he does a very good job.  I’ve worked with him at close quarters since becoming Prime Minister, and I’m impressed with the grip and grasp he has over the NHS, and his knowledge, understanding and love for it, and what he helps to deliver in terms of results.  I obviously read that report very carefully; I looked at what people were responsible for and, it seemed to me that he had properly apologised and acknowledged the mistakes that the regional health authority had made, when he ran it for that short period of time as these events unfolded.  And I would point you towards what the report says.  It says, ‘We should not be seeking scapegoats’.  To highlight David Nicholson in that way would be seeking a scapegoat, but clearly there are lessons that health authorities and others have to learn from the crisis.

Question

He certainly didn’t feel any shame as a result of it.  Do you think there should be some shame?

Prime Minister 

Well, he has apologised.  He said there are lessons to learn; he wants the NHS to learn them.  I read that section of the report very carefully about the regional health authority and about him.  I also read what it said about scapegoats, and I don’t think he should be made a scapegoat for what went wrong at Mid Staffs.

Question

Can I just ask about this spending review?  Danny Alexander said the other day you talk about ‘fiscal nimbyism’, with some ministers being prepared to justify cuts in general, but not to their departments.  What would you say to your colleagues who seem to be digging in against all this?

Prime Minister 

I’m delighted that the Chief Secretary, as all Chief Secretaries do, is making points like that.  That’s absolutely right; that’s what they’re for.  Look, these spending rounds are always difficult.  They involve difficult decisions, but I’m sure that the Coalition will step up to the plate and make them. 

Question

Do you think it’s inevitable you’ll have to go back to welfare again?

Prime Minister

As I’ve said, we’ll make the right decisions. 

Question

Can I just clarify one thing from today, one really important thing: why it is you declined to apologise?

Prime Minister 

In my view, we’re dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born, and we’re also dealing with something which, as I said, Winston Churchill described as ‘monstrous’ at the time and the British Government rightly condemned at the time.  I don’t think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things that you should apologise for. 

I think the right thing to do is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened.  I think that is the right thing to do, and that’s why the words I used are right to pay respect to those who lost their lives, to remember what happened, to learn the lessons, to reflect on the fact that those who were responsible were rightly criticised at the time.  As I say, it’s to learn from the bad and to cherish the good. 

Question

Can I bring you back on George’s point to have another go around the spending review?  There have been some suggestions that there might be some scope for a slightly more creative use of money between the aid and defence budgets.  I’m just wondering whether you have any thoughts on whether or not there is more you can do, given that there is a sense among part of your party, maybe, that DFID’s doing quite well and the MOD’s not doing so well.

Prime Minister 

I think we have to demonstrate that the DFID budget is used wisely.  One of the things that Justine Greening is rightly keen on is to make sure that countries that are affected by conflict, that we think about them particularly.  There’s a real national interest there as well. 

First of all, conflict states, they haven’t met a Millennium Development Goal between them, so we should be thinking very carefully about how we help states that have been riven with conflict and war.  I think it’s obviously true that if you can help deliver security and help provide stability and help with stabilisation, that is the base from which all development can proceed.  What is very healthy about this government is that DFID is no longer seen as, nor does it see itself as, a sort of giant NGO.  It’s very much part of the Government; it’s part of the National Security Council.  DFID, the Foreign Office and the Defence Ministry work incredibly closely together. 

If you’re asking, can they work even more closely together, can we make sure that the funds we have at our disposal are used to provide basic levels of stability and security in deeply broken and fragile states, then yes, we should.  I think that’s an important part of development. 

Question

That could mean pooling of budgets. 

Prime Minister

There is already.  There’s the Conflict Pool, which we already have.  Can we do more?  Can we build on this approach?  I’m very open to ideas like that.  We have our moral responsibilities for tackling poverty around the world; we also have our national security responsibilities for mending conflict states and helping with development around the world.  We should see DFID in that context. 

(political question omitted)

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