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Dr. David Kelly

Q6. [147485] Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): For what reason his official spokesman Mr. Tom Kelly described Dr. David Kelly as a Walter Mitty character, in conversation with journalists.

The Prime Minister: This issue was covered in evidence to the Hutton inquiry.

Dr. Lewis: What a predictably courageous answer from the Prime Minister. But we do not really need Lord Hutton to tell us what is known already. Is it not known that the Prime Minister's official spokesman, Tom Kelly, smeared Dr. David Kelly as a Walter Mitty character 48 hours before his body had even been buried, that the No. 10 press office falsely denied that that had been done until the prospect of a tape recording's being produced made them admit to it, and that at the Hutton inquiry itself, Tom Kelly said that he had been drawn into a conversation that he had initiated? Why was it right for Jo Moore to go, but for Tom Kelly to stay?

The Prime Minister: First, my official spokesman unreservedly apologised to Dr. Kelly's widow and her family. That is on the record, and the evidence about it was given to the Hutton inquiry. When the hon. Gentleman says that we do not need the Hutton inquiry to tell us about this, we know exactly where the Conservative party is heading. The Conservatives are determined to try to ignore the findings of that inquiry. Once again, we should leave it to the judge who looked into all these issues, including the one that has just been raised.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister agree that our duty to respect the feelings of Dr. Kelly's family should not prevent the asking of legitimate questions about the propriety or otherwise of his contacts with journalists, once the report is published?

The Prime Minister: All these matters can be fully looked into and investigated once we have the report.


Q7. [147486] Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): The Prime Minister will be aware that Ireland abolished tuition fees in the 1990s and is one of only a few countries that have a higher education participation rate of 50 per cent. If the Irish can do it, why cannot the Prime Minister?

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The Prime Minister: Each country has to make up its own mind, but let me tell her what the evidence is from other countries—from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and from the country, the United States, which spends most per pupil on higher education. I think it is important that we judge these proposals on their merits and ask whether they are going to allow us to widen access by getting more money into universities, providing more support for poorer students and more support for families because they do not have to pay upfront fees. I happen to think that that is a fairer system than the present system.

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12.30 pm

Mr. Speaker: I have a brief statement to make on a matter of privilege. Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting with, and received a letter from, the Chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), acting on behalf of his Committee. The right hon. Gentleman drew my attention to the report that his Committee agreed at its meeting yesterday morning. The report concerns allegations that an individual has suffered detriment as a result of the evidence that she has given to the Constitutional Affairs Committee last year. I understand that the Committee's report has now been published and is available to right hon. and hon. Members in the Vote Office.

I have considered the right hon. Gentleman's letter and his Committee report, and I have decided that they raise issues that justify me in giving precedence to a motion relating to them. Accordingly, if the right hon. Gentleman tables such a motion, it will be taken as first business tomorrow. As is customary, I do not intend to take points of order on this matter, or to allow any further discussions on this matter before it comes before the House for decisions.

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Orders of the Day

Employment Relations Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I ask hon. Members to leave the Chamber quietly?

Ms Hewitt: Ten years ago, unemployment in our country stood at 3 million. Today it is less than half that number. Long-term youth unemployment, which in 1997 was 121,000, is today just 58,000. In 1997, 476,000 men and women—nearly half a million—had been unemployed for more than two years; today, that number is only 152,000. Those are achievements of which we on the Government side are rightly proud. But that is not all.

At the same time as we were helping thousands of people to find a job, we were acting to make those jobs worth while. The national minimum wage, the working tax credit, the new children's tax credit and record increases in child benefit all help to ensure that work will pay. Over the past six years we have raised standards at the workplace, protecting people at work and ensuring that the standards that are taken for granted by good employers become the norm everywhere. Four weeks' paid holiday, protection for part-time workers, the right to trade union recognition, a year's maternity leave, paid paternity leave for the first time ever and new rights to family-friendly working: all regulations of which Government Members are justly proud.

Throughout we have worked in partnership—partnership between the Government, employers, employees and their unions. We believe in partnership in policy making, just as we believe in partnership in the workplace.

What did the Opposition and our critics say? They said that the national minimum wage would destroy a million jobs, that employment laws would throttle small businesses, and that rights for working parents would make mothers unemployable. That was just not true. We have 1.7 million more people in work than we did seven years ago. As today's labour market figures show, employment has risen and unemployment fallen in every nation and region of the UK.

Women's employment is up, as are part-time employment and self-employment. There are 100,000 more businesses in operation than in 1997, and 170,000 more people in self-employment. Is it surprising that the German Minister for Economics and Labour should have described our employment record as an inspiration for Europe?

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): When the Secretary of State refers to the increase in employment, does she mean the massive increase in the public sector employment that has taken place under this Government? In the private sector, and especially in manufacturing, jobs have been going very quickly.

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Ms Hewitt: I realise that the hon. Gentleman has not the slightest interest in having more doctors, nurses, teachers and language and speech therapists in employment. He is against all of that, and probably does not regard those as real jobs. He refers to the loss of manufacturing jobs: that is a matter of great concern to Labour Members, and the Government are doing something about it. However, I shall take no lectures in industrial policy or manufacturing from a member of a party that presided over the devastation of British manufacturing firms, and over the loss of British manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Secretary of State says that she is happy to see more people in employment, and that is, of course, commendable. However, does she want more postmasters to be in employment, or fewer?

Ms Hewitt: That matter was debated very fully yesterday. If he was listening, the hon. Gentleman would have heard my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services make a superb speech, in which he described precisely the problems and challenges—

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): Rubbish.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not expect the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to heckle the Secretary of State.

Ms Hewitt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I took great pleasure in reading the Hansard report of that debate, and in seeing that, in an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services spelled out precisely the challenges that the Government are facing up to in modernising and reforming our post office network. The reality—

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, the shadow Leader of the House raised a point of order yesterday. The Secretary of State was not present to open yesterday's debate on post offices. Would she like to take this opportunity to explain where she was, as she was not here?

Mr. Speaker: I seem to recall that I dealt with the shadow Leader of the House's point of order yesterday. The hon. Gentleman should remember that today we are dealing with a Second Reading debate, and that we are not analysing what happened yesterday. Yesterday was another day.

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