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Arts (Promotion)

5. Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): What discussions he has had with interested parties in Northern Ireland about the promotion of the arts. [153159]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith): I have had discussions about the promotion of the arts with a range of interested parties, including political representatives and those working in the statutory, community and voluntary sectors.

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The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the statutory body responsible for the promotion of the arts. Both my Department and the Arts Council engage on a regular basis with a wide range of stakeholders from the arts sector.

Jim Knight: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I know first hand from my work as a professional arts promoter the potential of the arts to heal, to educate and to strengthen communities. What use is my hon. Friend making of the arts in those capacities in Northern Ireland?

Angela Smith: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in the issue. The arts do indeed have the capacity to bring communities together. The work that I have seen of, for example, the Lyric theatre and the Community Circus school in Belfast and the Nerve centre and the Verbal Arts centre in the city of Derry shows that they can promote a far greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures and traditions.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): We are all aware of the growing culture of mural art in Northern Ireland. This is to be found in both communities—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking a question.

Mr. Beggs: In fact, that mural art is a tourist attraction. Is the Minister aware of just how many properties in public ownership carry sectarian and political murals? Will she provide funding and harness the talent that exists in Northern Ireland to provide more attractive and more acceptable murals and give encouragement to that art?

Angela Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Murals can be divisive or unifying. As he knows, the Ulster-Scots Agency has looked at bringing in new murals and over-painting those that are sectarian. I will give further consideration to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Schools (Christianity)

6. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Whether the religious education core syllabus for grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland seeks to ensure that children understand both Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity; and if he will make a statement. [153160]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): The current core syllabus for religious education was developed jointly by the four main churches. It accounts for around half of teaching time in this subject. Schools can augment the core syllabus in accordance with their own ethos. The syllabus is currently being reviewed by a working party, whose advice I expect to receive shortly.

Mr. Allen : Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to undermine the religious bigotry that exists in

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schools in Northern Ireland, and give young people the broadest possible understanding of both religious and secular value systems, so that the inter-generational problems that we see in Northern Ireland can begin to be tackled where it really counts—at home and in the early years at school?

Jane Kennedy: I agree with the broad thrust of my hon. Friend's comments. It is already open to schools to provide opportunities for pupils to look at the beliefs of other Christian denominations and at other world religions, and I encourage them to do so.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): The Minister could help with this problem a great deal. If I were a young man applying to become a police officer in Northern Ireland, I would be referred to as a non-Catholic, not a Protestant, so could the Minister give a commitment that all future legislation in Northern Ireland will refer to Protestants who are members of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and that all those who are not Protestants will be referred to correctly as Roman Catholics?

Jane Kennedy: No, I am not prepared to give any such assurance.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [154044] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 11 February.

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 will have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Carmichael : Next week, I shall visit Kenny Richey—a British citizen who has been held on death row in Ohio for the past 17 years. Amnesty International describes his case as

The Prime Minister: First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving some notice of that question. I can give him the following information: I understand that Mr. Richey is awaiting the decision on an appeal for his retrial, and that decision is expected soon. We are continuing to monitor the case closely and will see what the result of Mr. Richey's appeal is before deciding what further representations we need to make. The Foreign Office is in touch directly with Mr. Richey's lawyers, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, and with Ohio state officials, so we will continue to

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monitor this closely, and, as a result of the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall obviously make inquiries about it myself.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Nineteen young people drowned in Morecambe bay last Thursday—the victims not only of the sea but of greed and exploitation. Does the Prime Minister agree that the slave-labour practices of some gangmasters put a stain on the character of Britain throughout the world? Does he also agree that it is an affront to every decent person in Britain? Can he therefore tell me whether the Government are willing to support and give time to the private Member's Bill that is being proposed to license the operation of gangmasters? Can he also tell me what regulations will be put in place for the operation of public fisheries such as Morecambe bay?

The Prime Minister: First, I think that the whole House would want to express its sorrow at what happened in that terrible tragedy and our deep sympathy for the victims and their families. As my hon. Friend will realise, a criminal investigation is under way, and it would be inappropriate therefore to comment at this stage, but there is no doubt that a number of issues arise out of this, and I can tell her that we certainly support the objectives set out in the private Member's Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan). The detail must be got right, and we are working with him and Departments to ensure that it is.

The current asylum Bill will make it a criminal offence to traffic people in or out of the UK for the purposes of exploitation. The cockle fishing industry is regulated by sea fisheries committees, and they are actively looking at what further steps they can take, but I want to stress one point that she makes: there are firms that operate in a reputable way, but where people are operating for the purposes of greed or exploitation, it is absolutely right that we take action—if necessary, legal action, by changing the law. That is why I can assure the House that we will examine what the private Member's Bill proposed by my hon. Friend says, and if we can find the right way to meet its objectives, we will do so.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in expressing my sympathy to the families of the victims of the tragedy at Morecambe bay?

The Prime Minister: What I said—and what we are doing—is that before the regulations that will grant the concession of free movement of workers are laid before Parliament, we have to make sure that any potential basis for the exploitation of any loopholes in the rules is closed off. That is what we are looking at now, and that includes looking in particular at the benefits regime.

Mr. Howard: No, no. The Prime Minister was not referring last week only to the benefits regime. I put it to

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him last Wednesday that most other European Union countries had imposed transitional controls, and he replied:

The Prime Minister: I am not changing my mind. The free movement of people is guaranteed throughout the European Union after accession. The free—[Interruption.] Yes, the free movement of people is guaranteed; the free movement of workers, however, is not. In respect of that, we are looking at both the benefits system and whatever other measures are necessary to make sure that if that concession is granted—and we have not yet laid the regulations that will grant it—that is done in a way that prevents it from being exploited. We are not against people coming here to work properly; we will not, however, allow our system to be exploited or abused.

Mr. Howard: We are hearing one thing from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box and completely different things from others in his own Government. The Prime Minister said one thing last Wednesday, and was contradicted that very afternoon by his own official spokesman. He was contradicted at the weekend by the Home Secretary, contradicted again by another official spokesman, then contradicted again by the Home Secretary on Monday. Last week, we saw a bold statement on Wednesday, good headlines on Thursday, a climbdown on Friday and total confusion by the weekend—a familiar pattern from this Prime Minister. Will he now give us a clear answer? Will the Government do what other countries are doing, and what the Prime Minister said he was looking at? Will he impose transitional controls on immigration from the accession countries or not?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman read out his last question without paying any attention to the answers that he had already been given. The position, as I have set it out, is quite simply this. There will be free movement of people after 1 May this year. Free movement of workers, however, is a concession that we are prepared to grant, but not in circumstances in which it can be abused. We are therefore looking at the benefits system and considering any other measures necessary to ensure that that concession is not abused. I do not see what is so complicated about that.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I understand that Ministers will shortly be deciding on the central rail project for roll-on/roll-off trains to transport lorries from north to south, which will halve the north-south traffic on the M1. That is not only supported by people in Broxtowe because of the potential for jobs; it is the only project in human history that has support from

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employers, unions, green groups and the Freight Transport Association—[Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend give it a warm welcome?

The Prime Minister: I think, as was fairly obvious just then, that that proposal is not without controversy in certain quarters. All that I can say to my hon. Friend on the project is this. It clearly has the potential to offer significant environmental and congestion benefits, and we are therefore considering it carefully, but we will want to make sure that the claimed environmental and congestion benefits are real. In addition, the issue of the financing of the proposal is very important. However, we will look at it with an open mind.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): Can the Prime Minister clarify the current state of negotiations between the British Government and the American Administration over the British citizens who are being held captive at Guantanamo bay?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I can. We are continuing to negotiate over whether those people should be tried by the US commission, or whether they should be returned. There is an option, in the end, over which of those courses is pursued. I am sorry—I have to say this—that the process is taking time, but it is taking time, as I hope the House understands, for very good reasons. We want to make sure that if people are brought back here—I say this without any disrespect to those people—that does not in any shape or form endanger the security of this country.

Mr. Kennedy: On that very important latter point, given the recent comments of the Home Secretary about lowering the burden of proof in terrorist cases, will the Prime Minister give the House an absolute assurance that we will not undermine the fundamental principles of British justice if these people are brought back to these shores and are then made to stand trial? Has he set a deadline with the American Government for this issue to be resolved once and for all?

The Prime Minister: No, there is not a deadline for that, and in a sense, it is for us ultimately to decide, if we cannot reach agreement, that we bring them back here. In relation to civil liberties and issues to do with legislation, we shall not do anything—indeed, I do not believe that we have done anything—to undermine essential civil liberties in this country. But there are real issues and dangers to do with terrorism. That is why we took exceptional measures, which were passed through the House, to allow us to detain people who were not British nationals in circumstances in which they would not be convicted in a court of law beyond reasonable doubt. We took those powers in respect of people who are not British nationals because of the danger that terrorism poses to this country. We will continue to keep the law under review, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was saying, but I would say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House that the dangers of terrorism are real. There are groups of people in this country and right round the world at the moment who would have no compunction at all in killing large numbers of innocent people; we saw that happen in Moscow last week. I know that, while this type of

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legislation is before the House, people worry about civil liberties. I can promise the right hon. Gentleman that if some terrible terrorist event occurred, their worry would be about security.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): In the Prime Minister's welcome talks with Mr. Shalgam yesterday, what was said about the prisoner in Barlinnie jail in Glasgow, Mr. Megrahi? Was that matter discussed?

The Prime Minister: That particular individual was not discussed at all, but the issue to do with Libyan and British relations arising out of Lockerbie obviously was. But, no, that particular individual was not mentioned in the conversation.

Q2. [154045] Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): What steps are being taken to persuade Israel to give up her weapons of mass destruction?

The Prime Minister: I would like to see the whole of the middle east free from the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the particular worries that Israel has about security, given that it is surrounded by many countries, some of whose stated objective is still to get rid of the state of Israel altogether. I have my criticisms of Israeli policy, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it is a democracy, whose Governments are elected by its people. At the same time as we try to strive for a region free of weapons of mass destruction, in whatever country, we must recognise that it is important to respect the security of Israel.

Q3. [154046] Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that there was a tragic fire in Padiham in my constituency at the weekend in which three young children died, despite the heroic efforts of their mother and of the emergency services. He will also know that a review of building regulations is currently taking place. The chief fire officer of Lancashire, Peter Holland, and the News of the World are campaigning for sprinklers to be included in the new building regulations, starting with those affecting new build properties for vulnerable people. Will the Government support those moves, recognising that sprinklers can save lives?

The Prime Minister: Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the three young victims of that horrific tragedy in Padiham in Lancashire. At the moment, investigations into that fire, and into whether it could have been avoided if the home had been fitted with a sprinkler, are still continuing. We have, however, been actively investigating the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in tackling fires in residential properties. The results of that work, which is being undertaken on our behalf by the Building Research Establishment, are to be published this week. They will be fed into the review of the fire safety aspects of the building regulations that is currently under way. We are going to have a look at this issue; we can take forward any lessons, and any indications that we receive from local people in the fire service as to what they think. My hon. Friend has put his finger on the nub of this issue, which is that there may well be a case for altering the provisions in respect of

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properties where particularly vulnerable people are housed. Whether that means that we extend the provisions even further is a more difficult question, but I understand the point that he has raised.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government plan to give £10 million of taxpayer's money to the trade unions?

The Prime Minister: Somewhere in the region of £5 million to £10 million will be given to trade unions over—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Higher, higher.

The Prime Minister: Only around £5 million to £10 million will be given to trade unions over the next few years, to encourage the process of modernisation in the trade union movement. [Interruption.] Unlike the Opposition, we think that good industrial relations between employers and trade unions are good for British business, and for Britain.

Mr. Howard: I have here the relevant Government new clause to the Employment Relations Bill, and it is very widely drawn. It states:

The Prime Minister: I doubt very much whether Mr. Bob Crow is in favour of the money being used for the modernisation of trade unions. I totally disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman: it is right to spend the money because it is right to help trade unions modernise. However, I can give another example that involves the Government spending rather more than £5 million to £10 million extra—the Short money that we have given to the Conservative party. I have to say, though, that the signs of modernisation there do not yet show that we are getting value for money

Mr. Howard: The deal that the Prime Minister is offering to the unions is that the Labour party gets £6 million from the trade unions, and the unions get £10 million from taxpayers in return. That is not a bad deal. Is that what the Prime Minister meant when he said that the trade unions would get "fairness but no favours" from a Labour Government?

The Prime Minister: I am glad to see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attitude to trade unions has changed not one whit. After all, when in government, he opposed the minimum wage, the social chapter and the right of people to join a trade union, even when they wanted to. I am sorry that he is still stuck in the same old groove. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order, Mr. Skinner. I heard booing in the Chamber. I will not tolerate that, even if it means suspending the House during Prime Minister's Question Time.

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