|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
15 Jan 2003 : Column 671continued
Albert Owen : In 2002, unemployment fell faster in my constituency than in most other areas in Wales. During my right hon. Friend's recent visit to my constituency, he met many young people who were optimistic and enthusiastic about the future. Does he agree that, to maintain the enthusiasm, we need a proper skills strategy to identify crafts where there are skills deficiencies, such as plumbing and electrical work? Will he push for such shortages to be identified because such qualifications and skills are as vital as academic qualifications in building a better economy in Wales and further reducing youth unemployment?
Peter Hain: Yes. When I visited Holyhead high school, which my hon. Friend attended, I was impressed by the pupils and the new atmosphere in Holyhead as a result of the Government's record investment, falling unemployment and increasing job creation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I meet Cabinet colleagues regularly to discuss a range of issues, including the operation of the new deal. I am also pleased to have the opportunity to discuss its operation in Wales with the new deal taskforce in Abergavenny on Friday.
Gareth Thomas : Has not the new deal been enormously effective in tackling unemployment not only in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom? Does my hon. Friend agree that Labour Members at Westminster and in the Assembly, for which an election will shortly take place, can rightly be proud of that achievement?
Mr. Touhig: The new deal has been a huge success in Wales, where 27,000 young people have secured jobs since its launch. Of those, 80 per cent. have retained them for 13 weeks or more. My attendance at new deal taskforce meetings last year encouraged me about its progress.
In my hon. Friend's constituency, long-term youth unemployment has fallen by 91 per cent. since 1997 and the claimant count for Clwyd, West is down by 44 per cent. We can all be proud of that achievement by the Labour Government.
Mr. Touhig: It would be a change if the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party said something valuable and good about the new deal. They opposed it and voted against it. Under the Conservative Government, unemployment between 1979 and 1997 reached 3 million. The Government are doing something about that. We should be congratulated on our success, not criticised. It is time that he woke up to that.
Hywel Williams : Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the 20 per cent. cut that the Strategic Rail Authority demands would mean a real cut in services on vital lines such as the Cambrian coast line in my constituency? Earlier, he referred to the increase in investment in rail. If it is so good, why is the service so bad?
Peter Hain: I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman properly raises some issues as a local MP, and we are dealing with them. However, we inherited a dreadful legacy from the Conservatives of a collapsing rail industry and under-investment. We are putting in a record amount of investment, which increases year by year, in rail in Wales, including west Wales, as well as elsewhere in Britain.
Miss McIntosh : I am most grateful for that unexpected reply from the Secretary of State. He will be aware that, in particular, flooding has caused enormous damage to farmland. What discussions has he had with the farming community and what representations has he received? What compensation might he make to the farming community for the damage that has been done to its crops?
Mr. McCabe : In view of last night's tragic events in Manchester, will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is a review for police officers undertaking these very difficult operations, to see whether anything can be done to increase their safety? What further steps are planned to protect the public now from the all too visible threat from fanatics, with their obvious contempt for human life?
The Prime Minister: First, I am sure that the whole House would wish to express our shock and outrage at this wicked murder and our deepest sympathy with, and prayers for, the family of DC Oake. Once again we see the courage and commitment of police officers to the service of our country and the dangers they face daily on our behalf. I met DC Oake when he worked with my security team on visits to the north-west. His family has lost a very fine man; the community has lost a very fine police officer. We mourn his death and it should redouble our determination to tackle terrorism in all its forms.
As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement shortly. My hon. Friend will also know that the chief constable is doing all that he can to establish the precise facts of what happened.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): I join the Prime Minister in his sentiment and his words. Everyone in the House and across the whole country will feel a sense of shock at the murder of Stephen Oake in Manchester last night. As the Prime Minister said, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Stephen Oake and the injured police officers. The whole House will recognise that we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude
The Prime Minister: Without any doubt at all, it reminds us of the threat that international terrorism poses here in Britain and of the need to take all the measures we possibly can to stamp it out in all its forms,
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister's answer begs a wider question as well. Our ambassador in Paris, we have learned, has told the Government that he shares the French Government's incredulity at this country's response to the threat from extremists. Does the Prime Minister agree that the priority for the Government must be that no person should be allowed to enter the country if he or she poses a risk to our security, and that those who do should be detained or deported immediately?
The Prime Minister: Of course that is right. The terrorism legislation that the House passed included a specific derogation from the European convention on human rights precisely to allow us to detain without trial those who are suspected terrorists. In addition, the asylum legislation that we passed last year gave us a power to prevent suspected terrorists from entering the country at all. There is now very strong co-operation right across European frontiers to deal with this.
I would point out that, unfortunately, the scourge of international terrorism is not limited to this country. Just in the past few days there have been arrests in France, Germany, Belgium and Holland, and there were arrests recently in Sweden. This is an international problem. We must take every measure we can here, but also every measure we can with other countries to co-operate abroad.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I agree with the Prime Minister: we must, but we also know that Home Office officials apparently advised Ministers after the events of 11 September that the key to fighting international terrorism would be to detain all asylum seekers entering the country in secure centres until their age, nationality and identity can be properly established. Will the Prime Minister now ensure that we make our borders secure and stop terrorists abusing the asylum system?
The Prime Minister: Of course. That is why we introduced the legislation that we did, and we have the ability for the first time not just to detain people, but to detain them without trial if they are suspected terrorists. I remind the House that, when that legislation was passing through the House, many people were opposed to it because they thought it was unacceptable in terms of our civil liberties. That is why it is important, I hope, that we continue to take the measures necessary here and abroad to make sure in so far as we possibly can that there is no hiding place for the terrorists. Of course, the arrests in the past few weeks have taken place precisely because the police and the security services are working closely to arrest and detain those whom they suspect of
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): When the Prime Minister meets the American President at the end of the month, will he tell George Bush that there is almost certainly a majority of the British people against the idea of a war with Iraq? Will he tell him that a lot of the British people are against the war because they can see that it is all about America getting its hands on the oil supplies in the middle east? Will he also tell him that we are not prepared to fight a war based on the fact that this vain American President is concerned more about finishing the job that his father failed to complete 12 years ago?
The Prime Minister: It will not surprise my hon. Friend to hear that I am afraid I cannot agree with him. Let me first deal with the conspiracy theory that this is somehow to do with oil. There is no way whatever, if oil were the issue, that it would not be infinitely simpler to cut a deal with Saddam, who, I am sure, would be delighted to give us access to as much oil as we wanted if he could carry on building weapons of mass destruction. The very reason why we are taking the action that we are taking is nothing to do with oil or any of the other conspiracy theories put forward. It is to do with one very simple fact: the United Nations has laid downindeed, it has been laying down for 10 yearsthat Saddam Hussein has to disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction and that he poses a threat because he used those weapons, and I believe that we have to make sure that the will of the United Nations is upheld. I also believe, incidentally, that a majority of the British peoplewho, I think, always take a firm view of the need for action in the face of dictators such as Saddam Husseinknows that the UN, having laid down its mandate, has to see that mandate through.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Does the Prime Minister accept that we share the expressions of sympathy and support for the family and colleagues of Detective Constable Stephen Oake and the other officers injured last night? Is it not a reminder of how much we owe to those who risk their lives to protect our freedomthose in the police, including the special branch, and in the security and intelligence services who do that day by day?
The inspectors are now seized of this issue. It was only last week that they began with a full complement, and they are being allowed to do their job. As I said on Monday, I am not getting into the position of speculating on arbitrary timetables. However, it is
Mr. Beith: Is the Prime Minister satisfied that, if the inspectors, perhaps with the support of Kofi Annan, say that they need more time, the US Administration will be ready to grant them that time? Surely this is about disarming Saddam Hussein, with the widest international support and a UN mandate. The consequences of military action, before the case for it had been made would be very serious indeed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) asked the Prime Minister last week, are there any circumstances in which his Government would decide not to commit our troops in support of US military action?
The Prime Minister: As I said last week, I would put it round the other way. I explained the circumstances in which we would be prepared to use force. In respect of the action by the United States, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that the United States has gone down the United Nations route. I remember that, before the resolution was passed last November, many people were insisting to me that the US would not bother with the United Nations and that it was impatient with the whole process and would not give it a chance to work. That has not been the case, and I do not believe that it is the case. So we have the international community united, but the single most dangerous thing that we could do at the momentwhich, in my view, would increase the likelihood of conflictwould be to send out a signal of any weakness in our determination to see the mandate laid down by the UN carried through.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): While I recognise the importance of the work of the weapons inspectors, is it not a fact that the regime constantly denied that it had any biological weapons until the two sons-in-law of the dictator defected in August 1995 and gave information that the regime then admitted was true? Why should we believe that dictator now? However much I dislike George Bush and his politics, I dislike the murderous dictator in Baghdad a million times more.
The Prime Minister: What my hon. Friend says about the regime of Saddam Hussein is right. It has always been a puzzle to me how liberal-minded people could possibly line up and support the continuation of one of the most repressive, murderous and barbaric regimes in the world. The point that my hon. Friend makes is worth underlining. People talk of the impatience of the United States, Britain or anyone else, but this has been going on for more than a decade. Saddam Hussein has had the opportunity time and again to comply with the
Q2.  Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester): If the Prime Minister still supports an ethical foreign policy, and does not want to see our cricketers playing in Zimbabwe, will he consider paying compensation to the cricket board so that the cricketers are not forced to play there?
Q3.  Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): The Prime Minister's new year message was a timely reminder of the clear and present danger facing this country, but for some of my constituents who live in areas of high flood risk, global warming is as worrying as global terrorism. The Local Government Association and the Emergency Planning Society have suggested that the current civil defence grant of some #19 million for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is inadequate and some #50 million short of what is required. Will the Prime Minister now review the resources available to the emergency planning officers and ensure that they have the tools properly to protect public safety in these circumstances?
The Prime Minister: I sympathise with my hon. Friend's constituents who have faced the problem of flooding over recent weeks. We are reviewing the flood defences not only in the Reading area but in all areas in which flooding has occurred. I would point out to him, however, that we are now spending about #500 million on flood defences. That is some 80 per cent. up on where we were five years ago, so we are putting in the extra money and obviously we must make sure that it is properly used.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): When it comes to dealing with Iraq, the Prime Minister said that a second United Nations resolution is preferable. The International Development Secretary says that it is essential. Which is the Government's position?
The Prime Minister: Both I and the International Development Secretary have set out the position, which is that of course we want a UN resolution. I have set out continually, not least in the House on 18 December, that in circumstances where there was a breach, we went back to the UN and the spirit of the UN resolution was broken because an unreasonable veto was put down, we would not rule out action. That is the same position that everybody has expressed, and I think it is the right
When asked if that meant that Britain should not go along with any unilateral action, she replied:
XThat is the logic of the position."
Everyone knows that most of the Cabinet back her position, not his, so I ask him: was she right or was she wrong?
The Prime Minister: We have all made it clear that it is right to go down the UN route; that is precisely the route that we are going down. The right hon. Gentleman is quoting my right hon. Friend selectively, because if he looks at other parts of the interview he will see that she made it clear that she did not want to confine herself to a second UN resolution, but of course we want a second UN resolution.
The point is that we have gone down the UN route very deliberately. That is because it is best that this were done with the maximum international support. [Interruption.] That is the position that everybody has taken on this issue. With the greatest respect, rather than trying to pretend that there is some difference where there is none, we should all surely unite around the position. I hope the whole House will unite around the sensible position that we have a UN resolution and that if it is breached action must follow, because the UN mandate has to be upheld.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Last week, the Defence Secretary contradicted the Foreign Secretary; this week, the International Development Secretary contradicts the Prime Minister. As we speak, British troops are being deployed, yet the Government are incapable of speaking with one voice. Does not the Prime Minister understand that he and his Cabinet must be clear and united to send a right message to Saddam Hussein, British troops and the British people?
The Prime Minister: The position that I have set out is very clear. We have chosen to go down the UN route; I think it is important that we do. That is because if Saddam is to be disarmed, it is important that he is disarmed with the support of the international community. We want the inspectors to do their work. If the inspectors come back and we find that there is a breach of the UN resolution, action will follow. We have said that a second UN resolution is preferable, because it is far better that the UN come together. We have also said that there are circumstances in which a UN resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act. That is the position that the Government have set out throughout, and it is the position that remains.
The Prime Minister: On my hon. Friend's general point, I totally agree. I have Teesside airport in my area, so I understand the vital importance of regional airports to an area's economic well-being. In respect of Finningley airport, again I understand her strong support for the proposals, and the planning inspector's report is with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I can tell her that the aim is to take a decision in the early part of this year. Obviously, until that decision is taken, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits of the case.
Q5.  Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): At his press conference on Monday, the Prime Minister implied that he had information that went beyond that contained in the British Government's dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Has he given that information to the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee? If not, will he be doing so?
The Prime Minister: Of course intelligence about the situation in Iraq is coming in all the time, so it would be perfectly natural for there to be additional intelligence subsequent to the publication of the dossier. As for sharing that intelligence with the Intelligence and Security Committee, I am not sure of the exact position, but I can certainly find out and let the hon. Gentleman know. Of course we have very good relations with the Committee; we do share intelligence with it, and we have always found that it treats that intelligence in a very confidential way.
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): Although it is welcome news that the number of people waiting longer than 12 months for NHS treatment has fallen by 20,000 in the last year, there are still 12,000 in that position, which is not acceptable. Can my right hon. Friend say how and when he will bring an end to the long waits?
The Prime Minister: We are, of course, getting those long waits down all the time. We have eliminated the 18-month and 15-month waits, and a timetable is set for the 12-month waits to be dealt with shortly. Moreover, the waiting times themselves are coming down. I think that well over 70 per cent. of people are now being seen within three months, and I believe I am right in saying that not a single national measurement of waiting does not show a better position than that of five years ago. That is a result of additional investment in the health
Q6.  Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Today the Seventh Armoured Brigade waits in limbo for the Government to decide on its deployment to the Gulf. Twenty thousand more service men wait on standby to cover the firemen's strike, while the Prime Minister will not even try to obtain an injunction to stop the strike under existing law that makes a strike in which strikers knowingly endanger life illegal. When will he put the interests of the armed forces before his own narrow party interests?
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to the armed forces and the work that they do, not just in any deployment for possible military action but in relation to the firefighters' dispute. They handled themselves magnificently during the strike.
As I have explained before to the Leader of the Opposition, the decision whether to seek an injunction is taken by the Attorney-General, on the basis of whether such an injunction would succeed or not. It is a decision for him, and not one that I can or should take.
Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): The Prime Minister referred to the United Nations 15 times during last week's Prime Minister's Questions, thereby demonstrating his support for the will of the international community. Does he agree that any breach of UN Security Council resolution 1441 should be a matter for the weapons inspectors and the Security Council, not President Bush and the American Administration? Does he also agree that if President Bush takes unilateral action against Iraq, he will be defying the United Nations?
The Prime Minister: It is, of course, a matter for all of us in the international community, including President Bush. Of course the weapons inspectors should be allowed to do their job. I must point out, howeverbecause I think this is importantthat the only reason we have UN weapons inspectors back in there is the firm stand that has been taken. Does anyone seriously believe that we would have UN weapons inspectors back in Iraq if there were a possibility of disarmament happening in a peaceful way? Does anyone really believe that they would be there if we had not sent the clearest possible signal?
It is also important at this time to ensure that we continue to send that signal of strength. If Saddam believes for a single instance that the will of the international community has abatedthat the international community does not have the solidity of purpose that it needs to see this thing throughthe consequences of either conflict or prolonged conflict are increased. As I have said, if we can avoid conflict we should, but the choice is Saddam's.
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said to me that the new sex offenders Bill will address that issue. It is obviously important that we legislate on it, and that we do so in a way that allows the House to debate such matters in full.
Q8.  Jim Knight (South Dorset): In May last year, Mr. Andrew Shirley of Birmingham came within minutes of drowning at Durdle Door in my constituency. He was saved thanks to the eight-minute response time of the Portland search and rescue helicopter, which is based in my constituency. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is considering relocating that helicopter to Lee on Solent, adding 30 minutes to the response timetime that Mr. Shirley and the many others saved by the helicopter simply do not have? I have done all that I can to raise the issue in the House and with Ministers, but is not it time now for the Department for Transport to improve its response time and decide whether it is willing to commit #2 million as a one-off payment to save our lifesaver?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the magnificent work that the coastguard does for us. I am aware that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been debating whether to move one of the helicopters, and the matter is being studied by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Urgent discussions are continuing, and we will let my hon. Friend know the results of those discussions as soon as we can.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Given that record numbers of people are applying for asylum, that Ruud Lubers has said that Britain takes more than its fair share, and that there is now a link between suspected terrorism and asylum seeking, does the Prime Minister consider his asylum policy to have been a success or a failure?
The Prime Minister: We took additional measures on asylum in the legislation last year precisely because we recognise that there is far more to do. I point out to the right hon. Lady that when we introduced legislation that, for example, gave us the ability to deport people who were asylum seekers convicted of criminal offences, its provisions were watered down by Conservative Members who opposed them. We introduced measures that allowed us to derogate from the European convention and to make sure that suspected terrorists were not subject to the normal asylum procedures, but those measures were also opposed by certain Conservatives. So I entirely agree that we need to do far more to reduce the number of asylum applications. That is what the measures that we are taking are currently doing. However, it is no use the right hon. Lady asking us to take tough action unless she and her colleagues are prepared to back us.
The Prime Minister: First, we provided about #32 million in assistance to Ethiopia last year. We are looking at what more we can do in response to the famine there. My hon. Friend will know that the work done by the Department for International Development has to a significant extent enabled the proper co-operation between Ethiopia and the UN famine relief programme to take place. I assure her that we will continue to do all we that can in respect of the famine in Ethiopia and of the coming famine in southern Africa.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Prime Minister often says that he likes to do things because they are right. How could it possibly be right to risk the lives of young British service men and women on a venture in Iraq that does not have the backing of international law, or the support of the majority of British people?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman says that there is no backing in international law, but let us wait and see what happens in the coming weeks in relation to the United Nations. I will tell him why I think that it is right that we are prepared to take action if necessary in respect of Saddam's regime. It is right because weapons of mass destructionthe proliferation of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology along with itare a real threat to the security of the world and this country. [Interruption.] Someone mentions North Korea. I agree; we have to deal with North Korea too, but that is not a reason for failing to deal with Iraq.
The truth is that this issue of weapons of mass destruction is a real threat to the world. I believe, incidentally, that it is only a matter of time before it is linked with international terrorism. Does anyone believe that, if we do not take a stand as an international community now in respect of weapons of mass destruction, some terrorist group is not in future going to get hold of that material and use it?
Supposing I came along in August 2001 and said to the hon. Gentleman that there was an al-Qaeda terrorist network; no one would have heard of it. Suppose I said that we would have to invade Afghanistan in order to deal with it; no one would have believed that that was necessary. Yet, my goodness, a few weeks later, thousands of people were killed on the streets of New York.
This is a difficult time. I understand the concerns that people have, but sometimes the job of a Prime Minister is to say the things that others do not want them to say but that we believe are necessary to say because the threat is real and if we do not deal with it the consequences of our weakness will haunt future generations.