The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I meet colleagues regularly to discuss a range of issues, including lottery funding for sports.
Simon Hughes: Do Ministers accept that there is a direct link between the amount of provision for sport and other constructive activity for young people in Wales, and the ability to distract them from crime and other destructive activity? Given that at this very moment the Welsh team is preparing for the Commonwealth games, and presumably the Welsh football team is preparing for the World cup finals in four years' time, can Ministers assure us that throughout the whole of Waleswe on the Liberal Democrat Benches all speak as the beneficiaries
Mr. Touhig: Yes, indeed. The Government are committed to using funds through the lottery to enhance the sporting abilities of our young people and to provide opportunities, especially in deprived areas of the United Kingdom, and in Wales in particular. The hon. Gentleman and the Government are on the same wavelength in that respect.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): The Government's long-term ambition is that by the end of the decade there will be a higher proportion of people in work than ever before. The Government have seen success both in reducing unemployment to nearly its lowest for 20 years, and in increasing employment, with 1.5 million more people in work than in spring 1997. I am pleased to tell the House that the latest figures for Wales, published last Friday, showed an increase of 3,000 in the total number of people in work in Wales compared to a year before.
Mr. Bryant: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be especially delighted to know that since 1997 unemployment in the Rhondda has fallen by more than 50 per cent. However, there are still many problems facing local industry, which complains that it is difficult to understand the process whereby it can get assistance from the Welsh Development Agency, and is worried that young people do not emerge from school with the entrepreneurial skills that are needed. Will he talk to his colleagues in the Welsh Assembly to ensure that we improve our record on those matters?
Mr. Murphy: Yes, of course I will. My hon. Friend is right to stress that his constituency has benefitedperhaps more than any other in Walesfrom the changes, and that he has a committed work force in the Rhondda. I look forward to being with him in the Pop factory in Porth on Friday, where we will celebrate the industrial heritage of the Rhondda and a great future for his valleys.
Ms Ward: Does my right hon. Friend agree that globalisation can bring real benefits to all of us, but that it must not be allowed to do so at the expense of the poorest in this world? Today there are thousands of people demanding that the Government use their influence to change the World Trade Organisation and the trade rules to ensure that developing countries benefit and are not exploited. Will my right hon. Friend listen to those representations today, and will he lead the debate for change when he attends the Heads of Government meeting?
The Prime Minister: I met representatives from my constituency and others today in Downing street over that very issue. The Trade Justice movement will get a great deal of support for its basic principles from the Government and, I hope, all Members of the House. It is important to point out that over the past few years we have increased the aid budget by 45 per cent. in real terms, and we have been leading the cause of writing off the debt of the poorest countries. We have also been making sure that we focus the aid that we do give on poverty reduction. The people of this country can be very proud of the commitment that they have given to some of the poorest people in the world. We need to make sure that as well as giving aid and writing off debt, we are giving access to our markets so that those countries can compete properly and fairly.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): May I take this opportunity to extend my condolences and those of my party to the families of the victims of the terrible suicide bomb in Jerusalem yesterday?
Mr. Duncan Smith: Perhaps the Prime Minister ought to check his figures. The answer is that not one single child curfew order has been issued in the past three years, despite the Prime Minister's speech. He also introduced child safety orders for the under-10s, apparently to stop them drifting into crime. That was four years ago, and only 12 such orders have been issued since. He promised that there would be 5,000 antisocial behaviour orders every year, and there has been a total of only 500. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many more crimes there are each day than there were a year ago?
I return to some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made on curfew orders. There have been about 1,500 juvenile curfew orders, about 14,500 adult curfew orders, 6,500 drug treatment testing orders and 12,500 reparation orders, particularly for young people, so it simply is not the case that none of those orders is being used. The critical point is that we are taking measures, particularly to deal with street crime. Overall crime has fallen in the past five years. That stands in stark contrast to the Conservative Government who, when they were in office, doubled the rate of crime.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I know that the Prime Minister does not like to answer the question, but the question was about child curfew orders. Two years ago he said that he would issue them, but not one child curfew order has been issued. Crimes are up by 850 a day in the past 12 months. Overall crime is now rising for the first time in a decade, burglaries are up for the first time in eight years, and violent and street crime is rocketing. It is no good the Prime Minister sending his chairman and his Home Secretary out to attack the press merely because their spin is backfiring. Does he understand that what the people require is action, not words?
The Prime Minister: I agree. However, let us get the facts straight. Overall, police numbers are now at their highest level ever. They were falling in the last years of the past Government. Since we came to office, burglary is down by 35 per cent., and vehicle crime by 24 per cent. We have halved the time that it takes to get persistent juvenile offenders to court. We have increased dramatically the cuts in court delays, which have caused so much distress. A huge amount of work is being done in the White Paper on criminal justice and on juvenile crime.
Surely the comparison is this: in the past five years, crime overall has fallen under this Government. There is much more to be done, and we are doing it. Crime under the previous Conservative Government doubled. We have increased the numbers of police officers. It is only as a result of the additional investment that we are putting into the criminal justice system that we will get further results in future.
If it is the case that we need more police and we need more investment in our criminal justice system, we have committed ourselves to make that investment. Will the right hon. Gentleman reverse the Conservative party's position and support that investment?
Q2.  Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): Tesco will soon be opening a £20 million store in Leyland in my constituency, and it is using the new deal partnership to guarantee jobs for the long-term unemployed in the area. I have recently met some of the 80 trainees who have finished a 13-week course that was run by Runshaw college and Age Concern. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating them on completing their course and
The Prime Minister: In my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere, the new deal has had a huge impact in cutting unemployment. In the long term, youth unemployment has declined by about 75 per cent. in the past few years. We have put about 650,000 people through the new deal. Literally hundreds of thousands of people who were without hope and any chance of a decent prospect in life finally have job prospects and a potential career to go to. I remind the House that when we introduced the new deal, it was opposed every inch of the way by the Conservative party. We will continue with the new deal because it is right for the country and right for the people who are benefiting from it.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): Given that the Prime Minister is meeting the President of France later today, will he be raising with him the continuing illegal ban on British beef importation? Has he yet been able to ascertain whether the incoming French Administration intend to end this illegal ban?
The Prime Minister: Yes, of course I will raise the issue with the President. We are also raising it at a government level. There is a new Government in place, and we very much hope that they will come into line with their legal obligations.
Mr. Kennedy: Will the Prime Minister confirm also that British beef is produced to the most stringent health, safety and quality standards, which match those of the rest of the world? Given that the illegal ban remains unacceptable, will he launch a fresh promotional campaign for British beef? Will he also seek compensation from the French authorities for the damage that has been done to our farmers in the interim?
The Prime Minister: First, we must ensure that if the French Government will not change their position, the European Commission will take the necessary infringement action, because the ban on British beef is wholly illegal.
The incidence of BSE in this country is falling, and has fallen dramatically. The incidence in France has been rising. There is no reason, in science, common sense or law, for the ban to remain. We will continue to do everything that we can. Through the red tractor campaign, we are doing our best to promote British beefit is among the safest and the finest quality in the worldand British produce generally.
Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): Given the huge response to the trade justice lobby today, will the Prime Minister assure the House that this Government will work for reform of the EU common agricultural policy to end the tariffs and subsidies that are throwing millions of people into continued poverty?
The Prime Minister: We will press for that reform. I hope that the European Union realises not merely that it is the right thing to do, but that reform of the common agricultural policy is inevitable, given that enlargement is
Q3.  Mr. John Baron (Billericay): Why did the Prime Minister endorse the takeover of Express Newspapers by the pornography king Richard Desmond and, indeed, accept a large donation from him? Was it because all other interested parties were committed to keeping the pound and he was simply lying back and thinking of Europe?
The Prime Minister: I suppose that that is what passes for forensic questioning by the Conservative party nowadays. The takeover bid was handled entirely in accordance with the proper rules, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.
Q4.  Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the World cup has helped to highlight UNICEF's call for a global movement for children to combat extreme poverty, provide universal primary education and combat the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS? Will he work with the leaders of the affluent countries to adopt those aims as part of a strategy to achieve global social justice?
The Prime Minister: We will certainly push for the global targets on poverty to be met. They will be met by a combination of action from the developed world andthis is what is particularly importantfrom the developing world itself. That is why the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which will be discussed at the G8 next week, is so important. It will set down clear benchmarks not only for aid on issues such as health and education, but for action on issues such as governance and the proper commercial and legal systems from African countries, so that the money that we put into such programmes is properly used for the benefit of the people.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I know that the Chancellor has his best interests at heart, so when he whispers in the Prime Minister's ear, it is only for his own personal good. The fact is that the stock market has fallen by £300 billion in the space of one year, so will the Prime Minister please tell the House how much longerI would not listen to
The Prime Minister: What my right hon. Friend was saying was that the stock market rose £520 million before the recent fall, but the fall to which the right hon. Gentleman refers still leaves the stock market in a net balance up of £250 billion. If he disputes that, perhaps he will say so.
Mr. Duncan Smith: It really is difficult for the Prime Minister; he really should not listen to his neighbour, because he genuinely does not have his best interests at heart. I asked him a specific question: how much longer? This may come as a bit of a blow to the Chancellor, but a man of the Prime Minister's age will now have to work four years longer than planned. That is because the pensions industry is in crisis. Does he accept that, as a direct result of the imposition of his pensions tax, millions of people's retirement plans are now in ruins?
The Prime Minister: I may be working for four years, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have to work for about 40 years before he has any chance of crossing the Floor. As for pension funds, it is absurd to say that the Chancellor is responsible for the fall in the stock market. Yes, the stock market has fallen, but it is still massively up on where it was five years ago. As for the issue of pensions, we are putting £6 billion more into pensions every year. We have got the pension credit coming up, the stakeholder pension and the new measures on the state second pension. What pensioners in this country remember is the last Conservative Government and the mis-selling of pensions scandal, about which they did absolutely nothing. Whether it is my longevity or his that is the issue, I do not think that a Conservative Government is the answer.
Q5.  Tony Cunningham (Workington): May I tell the Prime Minister that we have a brand new police station in Workington, which was officially opened last week? Superintendent Steve Turnbull is delighted with the new facilities, but he has asked me to raise with the Prime Minister the particular issue of special constables. Will my right hon. Friend look seriously at an initiative in west Cumbria to pay special constables to patrol Workington town centre? If that pilot scheme is successful it could well be used in other parts of Cumbria and the rest of the country.
The Prime Minister: I offer my best wishes to Mr. Turnbull in his new station. The way we attract more people to become special constables is a real issue. The Home Office is looking at paying them an allowance, but obviously that has to be looked at together with other priorities. However, the existence of the new station, plus the neighbourhood warden scheme, will make a great difference to crime in my hon. Friend's community. I hope very much even at this late stage that the House
Q6.  Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Could I ask the Prime Minister to muscle in on another area of policy? Presumably this country gives international aid to assist development, ease suffering and stop people dying. Would it not be immoral to use that as a weapon to dragoon developing countries into changing their asylum policies, particularly as two thirds of the refugee problem lies within those countries? Would it not be doubly immoral, not to say pathetic and embarrassing, to go to the Seville summit and ask other European countries to follow that course of action?
The Prime Minister: I do not agree at all. It is not a question of dragooning people but of saying that if we are worried, as we are, about the number of people coming here as illegal immigrantsI have to tell the hon. Gentleman that they are often subject to illegal people-trafficking conducted by organised criminals, some of their lives are at risk and large sums of money are taken off themthere is nothing wrong whatever in us and other European countries working with countries with which we have a substantial relationship, whether in aid, trade or any other matter, and saying to them, "Let's sit down and work out a proper system of co-operation so that people who come into this country do so in the right way." That is a perfectly sensible and laudable objective, which is no doubt why the Scottish National party disagrees with it.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): Did my right hon. Friend notice that when Senegal got through to the quarter finals of the World cup a national public holiday was declared? Does he agree that countries like Senegal, the USA, South Korea and the Republic of Ireland have made this the most wonderful World cup that we can remember since 1966? In the event of England beating Brazil on Friday, we stand a very good chance of going through to the World cup final, which would be a national event of great significance. Under those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend consider declaring a public holiday in the United Kingdom on Monday 1 July so that we can all enjoy the experience or, as it were, get over our disappointment?
That is worth thinking about because, after all, this country is at the bottom of the European league for public holidays. I have tabled an early-day motion, which is supported by five Scottish Members of Parliament as it applies to the whole country. If we get into the World cup final the Prime Minister must go to Japan. If he does so, will he take me?
Q7.  Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): The Prime Minister promised Britain a transport system fit for the 21st century. Can he explain why, on the rather paltry list of road and rail projects approved since the general election, according to the Department for Transport 25 per cent. have been in his own constituency? More important,
The Prime Minister: The best answer to the transport problems is the programme of investment over the next 10 years. Of course, that programme of investment is supported by Members on this side of the House and has been opposed by the Conservative party. Whatever the answers to the problems of our transport system, they are not the answers of the Conservative party, which are, first, to cut back on investment in our transport system and, secondly, to ensure that the botched privatisation that gave rise to Railtrack remains in place. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not like to be reminded that that is their policy, but it is.
The Prime Minister: The agreement that we made was that he would come to a Scottish prisonin fact, that anyone who was convicted would come to a Scottish prison. I have to say that I see no reason to change that decision.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Does the Prime Minister appreciate that while the Conservative Front-Bench team and the vast majority of its Back Benchers are wholly united in their attitude to the European currency, there is growing concern that the Government appear to be disunited, confused and unable to make up their mind? Can he try to resolve the issue by saying clearly and specifically when the five economic tests will be carried out and, if the result is affirmative, how soon thereafter the referendum will take place? If he gives a straight answer to that question he will deal with the issue, but if he again does not, that will simply add to the confusion. The Government cannot make up their mind what to do.
The Prime Minister: First, it is and always has been the case that we will carry out the assessment within the first two years of this Parliament. Secondly, the Conservative party may be a little more united today than it was a few years ago, but that is only because it has driven out anyone of any sense on the Conservative Benches. The vast majority of people believe that a sensible position on the single currency is that if the economic tests are passed and it is in this country's economic interests to join, we should. It would be disastrous for this country if we adopted the hon. Gentleman's true positionhe is right that he probably does speak for many people in the Conservative partyand withdrew from the European Union. Our position is that we should remain in Europe and get the best out of Europe for Britain, because Britain's role is as a key player in Europe, not on the sidelines of Europe.
Q8.  Phil Sawford (Kettering): In the course of the recent intensive truancy campaign, 12,000 young people were stopped. Twenty-six per cent. of the secondary school children and 83 per cent. of the primary school children were with their parents, and half were
The Prime Minister: The truancy sweeps have been successful, and the link between truancy and antisocial behaviour and crime is clear. Two other steps are necessary, however. First, we must make it clear to parents that they can be liable to penalties if their children are truanting without good cause. Secondly, it is vital that children who are excluded from school should not be truanting, but should be in proper full-time education. As a result of the additional investment that we are putting into our school system, by the end of this year those who are permanently excluded will be in proper full-time education instead of having a couple of hours' education a week, which obviously leaves them free to roam the streets.
Q9.  Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The people of Gibraltar have strong support across Britain, including in this House. Given the rumours that the Anglo-Spanish talks have faltered, can we expect a statement before the summer recess, ideally confirming that the Government have relented on this issue and that we in Britain will show the same trust and loyalty to the Gibraltarians that they have always shown to us?
The Prime Minister: The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that there will be a statement when negotiations and discussions are concluded. The Brussels process, which began under the Conservative Government, is sensible and right and in the interests of Britain, Spain and the people of Gibraltar. However, we have always made it clear that there can be no change to Gibraltar's constitutional status without the consent of the people there. Getting more acceptable relations between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar is in everybody's interest.
Q10.  Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): In view of the recent report of record profits by Jarvis, the company that maintains the rail track at Potters Bar, and by the rail division of Balfour Beatty despite reports that maintenance of the track is a shambles, does my right hon. Friend agree that the culture of complacency shown by the contractors is unlikely to be replaced by one of safety until and unless rail maintenance is brought back in-house to Railtrack?
The Prime Minister: The Secretary of State for Transport met Mr. Armitage, the chief executive of Railtrack, and raised those issues with him last week. There is a clear understanding that the situation must improve; Lord Cullen made recommendations on the matter that will be implemented. Anybodythose in-house or contractorsmust abide by minimum standards and rules, and there are penalties for those who fail to abide by them. Although it is understandable that such issues are being raised, it is important to say that, on the whole, rail safety has improved, not declined in the past few years. Collisions are down by some 12 per cent., derailments by 22 per cent. and SPADssignals passed at dangerlast year are the lowest recorded. That does
Norman Baker (Lewes): In the light of the[Interruption.] I am grateful for the support. In the light of the recent fiasco between the Prime Minister's Office and Black Rod, would the right hon. Gentleman describe Mr. Alastair Campbell's position as unassailable? Is there any truth in the rumour that Mr. Campbell has suggested that, when we win the World cup, the Prime Minister should be on hand with Mr. Beckham to hold the cup aloft?
The Prime Minister: I wondered what the hon. Gentleman would ask. I realised that it would be something trivial that said far more about him than me. I have nothing to add to what I have already said on the subject.
Q11.  Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): President Bush has authorised American Special Services to dispose of the President of Iraq by any means, including assassination. Surely my right hon. Friend could not agree with that policy, could he?
The Prime Minister: It is correct that it is difficult to get a national health service dentist in some areas of the country. However, the sheer brass neck of any Conservative Member who raises that issue is extraordinary. The changes that we have made mean that anyone who wishes to do so can contact NHS Direct or other NHS services and get the name of an NHS dentist whom they can visit. If the hon. and learned Gentleman has examples of constituents who are unable to do that, perhaps he will pass them to the health authority. I am sure that it will be able to do something about the matter.
Q12.  Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): My right hon. Friend knows that schools throughout the UK will break up for the summer holidays in the next few weeks. Schoolteachers and pupils will welcome that. However, school cleaners and catering staff will not welcome it. They have no holiday pay for seven or eight weeks, and no right to unemployment benefit. Will my right hon. Friend do something about that?
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware that members of the American Congress have been taking evidence in this place relating to Gulf war syndrome. Will he give us an assurance that Parliament and our researchers will work even more closely with the Americans than they have in the past to
The Prime Minister: I understand the concern over this issue. It is correct that we are working with the Americans. I speak from memory, but I think that we are spending somewhere in the region of £7 million on our own research. The important point to stress is that we need to know what the scientific evidence really shows us, and it would not be right or proper to act on behalf of the Government until we have that evidence. This issue obviously arose years before we came into office, but we have made additional provision for research. We will do our best to get to the truth of the matter, and we will act on the scientific truth one way or another.