Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ministers' Code of Conduct

7. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): When the code of conduct for Ministers was last revised. [23449]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): A revised ministerial code was issued in July 2001, which took into account the recommendations of the Select Committee on Public Administration and the Committee on Standards in Public

9 Jan 2002 : Column 533

Life. Since then, in response to a recommendation from the Public Administration Committee, the Government have agreed to amend paragraph 27 of the code, which now requires that all announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance in Parliament. I am sure that the House will welcome that.

Mr. Turner: When, then, will the rest of the code be enforced? We had Ministers with houses paid for by colleagues, Ministers with houses belonging to their wives, and Ministers with flats belonging to railwaymen's unions. If hon. Members have an independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, is it not even more important that Ministers, who have executive responsibility, should have an independent commissioner for the standards that they are supposed to uphold?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: We heard lots of allegations, without a great deal of substance.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): There was in The Guardian.

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: It being in The Guardian is hardly the highest of recommendations. That is me finished again tomorrow. We have Select Committees that make recommendations, and they made recommendations about how the code should apply. I am glad that in a recent statement the Select Committee welcomed a number of changes that we have made to the code of conduct. For example, the code should be a framework for decisions. The seven principles of public life that are applied to public servants should now apply to Ministers. Further recommendations were welcomed. There was a gap, as the Select Committee pointed out—for example, we rejected the recommendation that the Prime Minister should appear before the Select Committee, and that there should be a separate ombudsman. We have made clear in our reports the matters on which we disagree with the Committee.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): On the enforcement of the code of conduct for Ministers, the Deputy Prime Minister will recall that the code contains a reference to the requirement for Ministers to comply in full with the Register of Members' Interests. Is it not regrettable that the Deputy Prime Minister himself has still failed to comply with the finding of the Standards and Privileges Committee that he should register his RMT property connection? Will not many commuters believe that the Government's spineless refusal to take action against this week's shameful rail strikes is connected with that link at the highest level to the RMT?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman has been geed up to be a little more aggressive in his questioning, but he is not consistent with the facts. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] I am going to answer. The allegations made by Opposition Members were investigated by the Committee and rejected. All three accusations investigated by Mrs. Filkin and put before the Committee were rejected. In those circumstances, I was not required to register the interest.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 534

The Committee invited me to do so and I talked to the Chairman about the matter, but since I had not committed an offence, why should I register the interest?


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [23470] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further such meetings later today.

Mr. Carmichael: Will the Prime Minister give a commitment today to pay the Scottish Executive the estimated £20 million that will be saved by the Department for Work and Pensions in payments of attendance allowance as a result of the Scottish Executive's decision to introduce free personal care for the elderly in Scotland? Is it not deeply ironic that the political courage shown by the Labour party in Scotland, along with Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Executive, should be met with such cynical swindling by none other than the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling)?

The Prime Minister: First, let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are increasing enormously the amount of health service and social care spending in Scotland, as elsewhere. That is of course a vast increase over anything that the Liberal Democrats have ever asked for. Secondly, let me assure him that as part of devolution it is of course possible for Scotland to take a different view of the best way in which to spend the resources that we have.

We believe that the best way is to put money into free nursing care, which we are doing, but to use the rest of the money to build up the social service infrastructure in England, which we are doing also. We do not, however, believe that the way that the Scottish Executive have taken is right for England. That surely is a consequence of devolution. In both Scotland and England, however, the amount of resources going into social care and the national health service is increasing massively.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): The Prime Minister will be familiar with the tragic killing in Macedonia of paratrooper Ian Collins in August last year while on a NATO peacekeeping mission. My right hon. Friend will have seen in the national press today that Ian Collins' mother, father and girlfriend are out in Macedonia at the moment seeking justice from the Macedonian judicial system. According to the Ministry of Defence, they are being escorted by Mr. John Mitchell, the vice-consul out there. I ask my right hon. Friend to do

9 Jan 2002 : Column 535

all in his power to ensure that my constituents receive justice for the tragic death that occurred on such a gallant mission.

The Prime Minister: I totally share the concern of my hon. Friend and of his constituents at the way in which the issue has been handled and at the present outcome. We are in close contact with the family and also in close touch with the Macedonian authorities, and we will do everything we possibly can to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Who is in charge of transport policy?

The Prime Minister: The Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I know that the Prime Minister has been away for a long time, but while he has been away, his transport policy has descended into farce. He has Lord Birt, with all his great expertise on railways, in charge of long-term transport policy; he has a management consultant in charge of short-term transport policy; and today we read that his Deputy Chief Whip is in charge of negotiating with striking rail unions. Just what is the purpose of the Transport Secretary?

The Prime Minister: First, in relation to John Birt, it was announced back in September that he would undertake a lot of work for the policy unit in Downing street about long-term trends in the transport industry. Since Governments have had policy units, as far as I am aware, for decades, quite why that is inconsistent with having a Transport Secretary I do not know. Secondly, what the Transport Secretary does is provide the long-term investment for the railways—and also sort out the appalling mess that was left by railway privatisation.

We on this side of the House are in favour of that long-term extra investment in our railways and we believe that Railtrack could not go on as it was, getting billions and billions of pounds of public money and not delivering a decent service to passengers. Now, perhaps on those two issues—the extra investment and what should happen to Railtrack—the right hon. Gentleman will give us his views.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The one thing that is absolutely clear about this Transport Secretary is that he is not there to make the trains run on time. The figures that are now available, which he stopped publishing, show before the strike, Connex South Eastern delays up 50 per cent., South West Trains delays up 70 per cent. and First Great Eastern Railways delays up 95 per cent. Yesterday, the Secretary of State said that he was going to be in post for years and years. Surely, the Prime Minister knows that the only certainty is that, under him, the chaos on the railways will be in place for years and years.

The Prime Minister rose

Mr. Duncan Smith: Oh no. I do not want the Prime Minister to miss this point. Is not it time that he sacked his Transport Secretary?

The Prime Minister: First, it is absolutely correct that after the Hatfield rail disaster—yes, it is true—reliability

9 Jan 2002 : Column 536

went down very considerably. That happened for a very simple reason. After Hatfield, it became clear that the state of the railway infrastructure was far worse than anyone had ever imagined. That is the result of cumulated under-investment going back many years. Let me give Opposition Members the figures on investment. In the first 10 years of the last Conservative Government—this is at constant prices—there was investment of about £940 million a year. In the next eight years, there was £1.4 billion investment. In the first term of this Government, that rose to £2.2 billion. However, under the comprehensive spending review, for the next three years, it will be £4.4 billion, or three times the amount that the last Conservative Government put in.

The difference between us, very simply, is that we believe that putting this extra investment into the railways is important. Let me read to the House, however, the policy of the Conservative party. The shadow Chancellor said:

The shadow Home Secretary said:

The leader of the Conservative party said that

If we had 35 per cent. of gross domestic product as the public spending target, it would mean £60 billion worth of cuts in investment—cuts that would wipe out the entirety of the extra investment in the railways. We believe in putting that investment in. [Interruption.] Opposition Members can try to shout me down, but let us understand the difference between the two parties. We believe that this extra investment should go in; let them state their position.

Hon. Members: More!

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North): Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the success of the British Institute for Brain Injured Children, the Disabilities Trust and my constituents, Ivan and Charika Corea, in getting 2002 declared as autism awareness year? Will he ensure that the national and local bodies that are responsible for health, social services and education co-operate in the joined-up provision of services that autistic people and their families desperately need?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents and the organisations concerned. Autism awareness year should give us the opportunity to raise the awareness of this condition, which is very debilitating and is distressing for families; in addition, it should ensure that we can learn more about what causes autism. She will be pleased to know that, in addition to the measures being taken by the voluntary sector, the Government are putting more resources and research into exactly how autism occurs and how we should deal with it.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): I acknowledge the Government's shambolic

9 Jan 2002 : Column 537

inheritance in terms of transport policy, but does the Prime Minister not feel the need to explain to people across the country why today, in year five of a Labour Government, with a generally benign economic scenario over that period and a three-figure Commons majority throughout, our transport policy is still a shambles?

The Prime Minister: There are two reasons why the problems on the railways have arisen. The first is related to privatisation, which is generally accepted to have been a disaster. That is now being sorted out, with the new company being restructured, the new Strategic Rail Authority director and the new management in the company all in place now. It will be sorted out in the next few months. Secondly, under-investment in the railways went on for a considerable period, but that is now being made good. On Monday, the new Strategic Rail Authority director, Richard Bowker, will publish the forward investment plans for the railways.

As I said a moment or two ago, after the Hatfield rail disaster it became obvious that the condition of the railways was far worse than people had thought. It could have been said that post-1997, the moment that we came to power, we should have realised that that privatisation could not work in any shape or form—[Interruption.] "Yes," one of the Conservatives says. Whoever we take criticism from about rail privatisation, I hope that we will not hear any from the Conservative party. We believed that it was better at least to give the system a chance to work, because of the upheaval that would be caused if we had to change it, as we are now having to, once it became clear that Railtrack was unsustainable. The extra investment will go in, the company will be restructured and it will be focused on improvements in the railways alone. I believe that those will happen in time.

Mr. Kennedy: The whole country will share the Prime Minister's sense of entertainment about where the Conservatives come from on this issue; there is no doubt about that. In response to my question, however, he said two things. First, he said that in the next few months the problems would be sorted out once and for all. Last February, in reply to me during Prime Minister's questions, he said that rail services would be back to normal by Easter—one wonders which Easter he was referring to. Secondly, the Prime Minister talks about persistent under-investment, and he is correct—but what about the under-investment during the first four years of this Labour Government?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the first four years of this Government. As I have just pointed out, the figures show that even in our first term we were spending—in investment, which of course means long lead times for new equipment and so on to kick in—about double what the Conservative Government were spending. Over the next three years that sum will rise to about three times what they were spending. I simply point out to the right hon. Gentleman that not merely are we spending far more than the Conservatives ever spent, and are due to spend more, but we are spending far more than the Liberal Democrats ever asked us to.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): In anticipation of tomorrow's important debate, will the

9 Jan 2002 : Column 538

Prime Minister consider what is the point of replacing a second Chamber that was rotten because of inherited patronage with a second Chamber that is rotten because of contemporary patronage?

The Prime Minister: First, the independent Members of the House of Lords will be appointed by the independent commission. Secondly, the political appointments can be made in one of two ways. Those Members could be wholly elected—some people here in the House agree with that—or they could be appointed through the political parties. In either event, those would obviously be political appointments. That is a matter for the House to debate, and of course we will listen carefully to the House's views about the right way to proceed with House of Lords reform. However, I have to say to my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members that, listening to those views, it is clear that there are almost as many different views about what should happen with the House of Lords as there are Members of Parliament.

Q2. [23471] Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Is the Prime Minister aware that all his talk of billions of pounds, of percentages and of investment on the railways will be of little comfort to commuters in my constituency, whose service has deteriorated and is continuing to deteriorate? He has been in charge for five years. Why does he think that Labour is so bad at improving public transport?

The Prime Minister: As I pointed out a moment ago, the real fall-down in reliability came after the Hatfield rail disaster, when it was discovered that the state of the track was far worse than anyone had ever thought. At present, we also have the issue of strikes on the railways. I have to say that this is a totally unacceptable way to resolve disputes in this day and age. There exists in the agreement between the management and the unions the power for this matter to be referred to arbitration. I would have thought that that, rather than strike action, was a far better way to resolve this issue. In any event, the long-term future of the railways depends on extra investment and the sorting out of Railtrack, which we found, after Hatfield, was a company that simply could not go on in the same way as before. Both those things have to be done if the railways are to be put in order.

Q3. [23472] Andy Burnham (Leigh): Does the Prime Minister agree that there is a growing problem in Leigh, and many towns like it, with gangs of youths who feel that they are above the law, damaging property and generally making people's lives a misery? Is he aware of the new policy being tested in my constituency by Greater Manchester police, in which calls from the public are prioritised and patrols are no longer sent in response to problems with teenage gangs of this kind? Does he share my concern that this sends out the wrong message to the public, and does he agree that our constituents want to see firm action against this type of behaviour remaining a high priority for the police?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that people want a high priority to be given to tackling street violence and antisocial crime. I know that the Home Secretary has asked for a report from the Greater Manchester police about the change in policy that

9 Jan 2002 : Column 539

my hon. Friend has just outlined. However, extra measures are now proposed for youth justice and there will be an increase in police numbers coming about as a result of extra investment. I think that the Greater Manchester police will, in the end, have more police than ever before under this investment proposal, and I am sure that there will be measures on the way to tackle this problem. But in the end, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the whole community must be engaged in rooting out this behaviour.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The Minister with responsibility for crime reduction has been quoted as saying:

Is the Minister right to be anxious?

The Prime Minister: That will be overtaken by a letter from the Minister to the newspaper concerned, saying that he said no such thing.

Mr. Duncan Smith: If, apparently, the Minister said no such thing, was he not, in reality, in saying no such thing, correct in what he apparently did not say?

Muggings are up by 40 per cent. The Home Office's own figures show that. Assaults are up by 20 per cent. and mobile phone thefts—about which the Minister apparently did not say anything—are up by a staggering 371 per cent. Is not the reality for the Prime Minister and his Government that they are failing to tackle violent crime and breaking their pledge to be tough on crime?

The Prime Minister: No. The British crime survey figures show that crime is down overall. Indeed, crime is down very substantially since this Government came to office. Some of us remember that, under the last Conservative Government, crime doubled. Violent crime is down, and so is burglary and vehicle theft. There is a particular problem at the moment with street violence, especially in relation to mobile phones, and it is precisely for that reason that the Government are going to work with the industry and the police to make sure that we tackle the problem.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Only someone who has become so isolated from the general public could say that violent crime is down, when his own figures show that it is up. People feel the kind of fear about walking in their streets at night, which the Prime Minister no doubt does not understand. The figures also show that Londoners are five times more likely to suffer attacks of violent crime than those who live in New York, and three times more likely than those who live in Los Angeles. Now that the Prime Minister is back home, should he not stay home and get a grip?

The Prime Minister: First, in relation to New York and so on, I think that those figures are wrong. In New York, the murder rate is about five times as high as in London. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong in relation to the overall statistics for crime. The British crime survey—which the Conservatives have always said is the most accurate survey—shows that crime is down. [Interruption.] Those are the Home Office figures.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 540

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, however, to draw attention to a problem that the Government have also drawn attention to, which is the problem of street violence, particularly that involving youngster upon youngster in relation to mobile phones. We believe that there should be tougher sentences in respect of such crime, and more secure places. We are putting in the investment to provide those secure places. We are halving the time it takes to get persistent juvenile offenders to court, and that measure has now been completed.

The new criminal justice legislation will consider the issue of bail in relation to such offences and more action against antisocial behaviour. There is more investment in closed circuit television, because that is proven to have an effect on reducing this type of crime. As a result of the extra investment, which was opposed by the Conservative party, there will be more police on our streets. That is a sensible way to deal with the problem.

Q4. [23473] Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West): I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the current difficulties facing the aerospace industry, which are due, at least in part, to the events of 11 September. Can he assure me that the Government are doing everything possible to assist that crucial industry with what we all hope will be short-term difficulties? In particular, will he have discussions with Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Defence about the possibility of bringing forward projects that are already agreed, and awarding training grants, which would be very welcome?

The Prime Minister: It is important that we do two things. First, we must make provision to help the industry through the particular impact of 11 September. In so far as we are able, we are doing that. Some £40 million has gone to help the industry. I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest in the aerospace and aviation industry in his constituency. We should try to bring forward some of the large contracts that are being placed abroad. I am pleased to say that we are doing well in that regard, but we will try to do more. The aerospace and aviation industry is an important part of this country's manufacturing base. It is highly skilled and highly sensitive to new technology, and we shall do everything we can to build on it.

Q5. [23474] Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): During the Prime Minister's current visit to the United Kingdom, would he turn his attention to the case of my constituent, Mr. Gavin Burns, of which I have given him notice? The eye hospital in Manchester could save Mr. Burns's sight only by using photodynamic therapy at a cost to him of £7,500. Conventional laser treatment available on the NHS would have destroyed the centre of his one remaining good eye, leaving him unable to see the faces of his grandchildren. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is unacceptable that Mr. Burns and others like him should be forced to pay for treatment that is clearly and obviously necessary?

The Prime Minister: I believe that it is unacceptable that people are forced to pay for their treatment in that way, which is precisely why it is so important that we get the extra investment into the national health service and build up its capacity. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman

9 Jan 2002 : Column 541

that, as the position of the Conservative party is to force people into private insurance, criticism from Conservative Members simply will not wash.

Mr. Brady: What is the Prime Minister doing about the case of Mr. Burns?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing about it. We are putting extra investment into the national health service. I am afraid that, whatever he feels for his constituent, the position of the Conservative party is to take that investment back out again.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): Just four weeks ago, on 12 December, 13-year-old Martin Lamparter, who lived and went to school in my constituency, died in a tragic accident involving fireworks. His family are absolutely devastated. In the light of that terrible loss of a young life and the almost 1,000 firework-related injuries that occur each year, would the Prime Minister look again at whether the legislation that allows the retail sale of fireworks is adequate, and whether further measures could be taken to protect the public, especially young people, from the dangers that fireworks present?

The Prime Minister: The risks associated with fireworks are very clear, as my hon. Friend says. Once the Government have the full statistics and the results of the survey of firework accidents that have occurred this year, we will certainly consider whether any changes are necessary. As a result of action that has been taken over many years, we have succeeded in reducing the number of accidents significantly, but if something remains to be done, once we have completed the survey and done the analysis of what changes need to be put in place, we will change the system even further.

Next Section

IndexHome Page