Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Beckett: I am very sorry to hear of the sad experience of my hon. Friend's constituents--

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Devastated.

Mrs. Beckett: Yes, indeed, I am devastated, particularly as it would appear that the incident was due either to bad parking by a Tory Member of Parliament or to the lack of progress of a piece of Tory party propaganda on wheels. Clearly, yet not for the first time, a Tory bandwagon has hit some problems. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for debate specifically on that matter.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is there any possibility of a Home Office Minister making a statement to the House on the policy for the treatment of people seeking asylum in this country, given that genuine asylum seekers would have no objection at all to being held in detention until it was shown that their applications were genuine? It would then be possible to see whether there was any alternative to the Conservative policy of having comprehensive detention, which will ensure that those who deserve asylum get it and that the vast majority who do not are not able to get into society illegally, as is happening under this Government.

Mrs. Beckett: I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman says about sympathy--which does not always shine through on the Opposition Benches--for those who are genuine asylum seekers. Of course we understand the anxiety to ensure that those issues are properly resolved.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Conservative policy of universal reception centres. It is unfortunate that the Conservative Government did not implement the policy during the years when they had the opportunity. I have, no doubt in common with other hon. Members, experience of constituents who were here seeking a decision on their case for years under the previous Government without its ever being resolved. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, not only has the Conservative party opposed all the measures that we have introduced to tackle asylum problems but it is even opposing the only proposal that has been made so far for a new detention centre, at Aldington. Therefore, although I understand the

15 Feb 2001 : Column 462

point that the hon. Gentleman makes, I fear that, not for the first time, the remarks made by members of his party are not consistent with its policy.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When can we return to the question of the loss of jobs in the steel industry and consider the disgraceful events of yesterday? At dawn, a confident announcement was made of 4,000 jobs for redundant steelworkers. By midday, it turned out that the jobs would probably never be created and, if they were, that few of them would be located in the areas where the steelworkers lived. Is it not grossly unfair to steelworkers to raise their hopes in that way? Was it not reasonable of the steel union to describe yesterday's stunt as "a cruel fantasy"? Would not a debate be an opportunity to appeal to Corus once again to negotiate in a reasonable way with the steelworkers and the Government, instead of indulging with its collaborators in self-serving publicity stunts?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend will know that there is considerable concern about the impact of the Corus changes on the local communities and that the Government are determined to do what we can to assist and will work to provide retraining or other opportunities. I understand my hon. Friend's concern that some of the proposals, when followed through, will not have as much impact as was hoped. He will know that the Government have throughout pressed Corus to reconsider some of its proposals and have consistently offered to do what we can to help. That position remains unchanged.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): The right hon. Lady will be aware that yesterday was one of those rare occasions when the Prime Minister gave a full and enthusiastic answer to one of his hon. Friends about regional government, referring specifically to the north-east. Can she assure my constituents that such a statement does not indicate that the Government have serious intentions of introducing an assembly in the so-called north-west of England? The very thought of another layer of government and even more politicians like us fills my constituents with horror. Their loyalties lie with their town, their county and their country, and there is no room for an alien concept such as the north-west of England, which is merely a geographical expression and carries no sense of identity for the people of my constituency.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, with which I suspect that not everyone in the north-west agrees. We have been consistent in making it plain that, were any proposals to be made for the development of regional government structures, they would be implemented only if that was the wish of the people in the locality. The hon. Gentleman can therefore reassure his constituents that there is no danger of anything being imposed on them against their will.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): Will my right hon. Friend be able to find time for a debate on the obscene profits announced by the oil companies, perhaps with a view to levying a windfall tax in order to compensate motorists?

Mrs. Beckett: I know that great concern has been expressed about the profits of the oil companies, and that that has been drawn to the attention of my right hon.

15 Feb 2001 : Column 463

Friend the Chancellor and other right hon. and hon. Friends on repeated occasions. My hon. Friend will know that we look carefully at all the issues and all the complications that arise, but he will also know that, while my right hon. Friend has undertaken to take those matters into account, he has made no commitment on them.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I revert to an important point made by the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). Why do Her Majesty's Government refuse to make a statement in this place on the dome? Can the Leader of the House not change her mind, even at this late stage? Is she aware that the taxpayer is paying £1 million a month for the care and maintenance of the dome, and that a cosy deal seems to have been struck with the Labour benefactor, Mr. Bourne, whereby his bid can be perpetuated as the sole bid under consideration--notwithstanding the fact that other bidders, such as Mr. Gerbeau, are keen to have their tenders considered? Is that not a scandal? Does the right hon. Lady not realise that obfuscation and flannel by the ignoble peer, Lord Falconer--[Interruption]--in the other place shed no light on the matter and do not reassure the public that an honest deal is being done for the taxpayer and for the country?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not refer to an honourable Member of the House of Lords as "ignoble". Perhaps he would be good enough to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Wilkinson: I think Mr. Gerbeau talked about the total ineffectiveness of the Government--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am instructing the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the remark.

Mr. Wilkinson: I withdraw it and say instead "the ineffective peer in the other place".

Mrs. Beckett: With regard to the request for a statement on the dome, I told the shadow Leader of the House that of course the matter is under consideration at present, and will remain so. There is no cause to make a statement at present; no doubt the point will be borne in mind, should the need for such a statement arise.

As for the hon. Gentleman's remarks about a cosy deal, it is not a cosy deal--the matter is in the public domain. Mr. Bourne has indeed been a benefactor to the Labour party--he has been a benefactor to the Conservative party as well.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I know that my right hon. Friend always reads the latest Employment Service statistics with great care. I am sure that she will have been as delighted as I was that they show that youth unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 50 per cent. since 1997. Could she make time for a debate on youth employment and the success of the Government's programmes, and could particular attention be given to the differential rates below the minimum wage, which are paid to apprentices, as I think that there may be abuse by some companies?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes two powerful points. I have noticed increasingly that observations are

15 Feb 2001 : Column 464

made by my hon. Friends about the dramatic fall in youth unemployment and in long-term youth unemployment. I have no doubt that the same phenomenon is occurring in the constituencies of Opposition Members, but for some reason they do not want to mention it very often. The fall in youth unemployment should be a source of great satisfaction to Members on both sides of the House. Nothing could be more damaging for the future of our country than for the young, in particular, to languish in unemployment and see their prospects and hopes blighted so early in their lives.

I take my hon. Friend's point about the concerns as to the potential for exploitation in the different rates of the minimum wage. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. However, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on the matter in the near future, although my hon. Friend may find that there are opportunities to raise it in Westminster Hall.

Next Section

IndexHome Page