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Civil Service Jobs

Q5. [207348] Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab): What the timetable is for the proposed dispersal of civil service jobs; and what plans there are for the relocation of jobs to Ayrshire.

The Prime Minister: In broad terms, the timetable is that more than 4,000 posts will have been relocated out of London and the south-east by March 2005, another 6,000 by March 2008, and a further 10,000 by 2010. As I made clear in a letter to my hon. Friend, we are unable to say at this stage how many civil service jobs will be relocated to Ayrshire. Departments are currently working through detailed implementation planning in consultation with stakeholders, including union staff and local stakeholders.

Mr. Donohoe: I am grateful for that answer. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware that I asked him a similar question on 10 November and got a similar answer. What he will not be aware of is that, in the interim, some 162 jobs have been lost with the transfer out of my constituency of civil service jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions. Consequently, will he agree to meet a small delegation to discuss this issue?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly be pleased to receive representations from my hon. Friend on the possibility of jobs being relocated to Ayrshire, and perhaps we can discuss further the possibility of a meeting.

Sir Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (LD): Could I possibly be included in the delegation that comes to see the Prime Minister about this important subject? The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) is absolutely right that the Department for Work and Pensions is engaged in a series of centralisation measures that will reduce the numbers of jobs in many areas, such as Galashiels in south-east Scotland, which will feel it hard. Will he also bear in mind, if he is establishing criteria for the dispersal of civil service jobs in future, the fact that many regions will lose European structural funds after 2006, which should also be considered in respect of applications for relocation in future?

The Prime Minister: Two separate things are happening. First, we are trying to slim down the numbers of people in Government Departments. A lot of pressure comes from both sides of the House to do so. The Department for Work and Pensions, for example, has already announced a reduction in jobs in the region of 30,000. In terms of a global figure, most people support the process, because it makes sure that we spend money more effectively. Secondly, a relocation out of
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London to other parts of the United Kingdom is taking place. At the moment, I cannot say exactly where those jobs will go. Certainly, I will listen carefully to any representations that Members make, but ultimately, we are trying to balance the need for efficiency in the DWP and elsewhere with relocation out of London. Inevitably, jobs will be displaced from some areas as a result, but that may well be in the interests of the country as a whole.


Q6. [207349] Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): A recent NAO survey revealed that women in Aberdeen earn only two thirds of male earnings—the largest pay gap in the whole of Scotland. While I accept that the Government have done quite a lot to address the gender pay gap, not least with the introduction of the minimum wage, what else can they do to end this inequality? Will my right hon. Friend encourage others, such as employers, to take the issue seriously rather than just shrugging their shoulders?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend's point is entirely fair, which is why the Women and Work Commission is considering precisely how we bridge the pay gap that still exists, as she rightly says. It is important to point out that only as a result of measures such as the minimum wage, the introduction of tax credits, enhanced maternity leave and enhanced child benefit have we been able to raise the incomes of women. It is important to keep all those measures in place, but the Women and Work Commission will look at some of the more fundamental issues so we can make sure that the equal-pay promise made by a Labour Government back in the 1970s is translated into action.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): We understand that the Prime Minister has said that the manifesto on which he intends to fight the next election
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will be unremittingly new Labour. What words would he use to describe the manifesto on which the Chancellor plans to fight the next election?

The Prime Minister: Precisely the same. It will be a manifesto that makes sure that we continue the huge economic record, that we continue the investment—[Interruption.] Oh yes—and in particular it will make sure that, unlike the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a member, who put pensioners and children in poverty, we continue with policies that lift pensioners and children out of poverty and create a fairer and stronger country.

Q7. [207350] David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In view of the Government's excellent work in dealing with antisocial behaviour in recent years, would it not be wise to reconsider the possible implementation of 24-hour drinking by pubs and other licensed premises? Does the Prime Minister not agree that binge drinking is already a very serious problem? What sense is there in allowing pubs to be open day and night?

The Prime Minister: I will tell my hon. Friend exactly what I think about this. Obviously it is important for us to listen to representations made to us about it. There is a problem with so-called binge drinking, and there is a problem in many places such as city centres where there is fighting outside pubs on Friday and Saturday nights, and sometimes on Thursday and Sunday nights. It should be remembered that we are also introducing greater powers for the police to shut down premises where such things happen.

My view is very clear. I believe that the law-abiding majority who want to be able, after going to, say, the cinema or theatre, to have a drink at the time they choose should not be inconvenienced. We should not have to have restrictions that no other city in Europe has just to do something about the tiny minority who abuse alcohol—who go out and fight and cause disturbances.

My view is very, very clear. We should have the same flexibility as other countries have, and then we should come down really hard on those who abuse that freedom and do not show responsibility. But to take away that ability from all the population, even the vast majority who are law-abiding, is not in my view sensible.

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Severe Weather

12.32 pm

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Members are stepping in front of the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House. That is a discourtesy to him and to the House.

Pete Wishart:— if she will make a statement on the severe weather conditions in Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): Issues relating to severe weather incidents are devolved to the respective Administrations. However, severe storms have hit Northern Ireland and Scotland in the last 24 hours and caused widespread damage, although full assessments have not yet been made. Let me take this opportunity to express sympathy, on behalf of the whole House, to those who have been affected by the storms, particularly in relation to the tragic deaths that have occurred in the borders and Northern Ireland.

Tidal surge and high winds last night caused widespread coastal flooding in the west of Scotland. Considerable damage was reported in the Lochaber area, with flooding in Fort William and Caol. The River Lochy and the Ness remain above flood-warning levels. Tidal flooding at Fort William and Caol last night was the highest in 10 years, with 20 houses evacuated and cars flooded. We expect a surge on the east coast of England later today, but although we expect flood warnings to be issued it is unlikely to cause serious flooding.

I made a statement to the House yesterday on flooding in northern England, which covered many of these issues.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the Minister for that thoughtful and helpful reply. I am sure that he agrees with me that the storms that have battered large swathes of Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England have been particularly devastating and appalling. They have caused unprecedented damage to infrastructure, and many homes throughout those stricken areas remain without electricity or other power. This, of course, is on top of the devastating floods to which the Minister alluded.

I begin by offering my sympathy and condolences to the families of the three people known to have been killed in last evening's storms, including in the fatal incident on the A90 in my constituency. I join the Minister in paying tribute to the tireless work of our emergency and rescue services, which have worked round the clock to ensure that power is reconnected to many stricken communities and damaged infrastructure cleared. It is entirely appropriate to single out the work of the coastguard and the RAF, which as I speak are trying to save a stricken Spanish trawler off the Western Isles.
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The Minister will doubtless agree that the priority now is to get Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England moving again. Can he therefore assure me that he is doing all that he can to work closely with the Scottish Executive and local authorities to ensure that the clear-up work is being properly controlled and co-ordinated? Can he also tell me a little about how the Bellwin formula applies in co-ordination with devolved government? As he knows, the Scottish Executive apply that formula, but can further funds be made available to them to help deal with this problem?

Does the Minister agree that the events of recent days highlight the particular nature of Scotland's infrastructure needs, and will he therefore review the excessive charges now being proposed for electricity generators in the highlands and islands and the north-east of Scotland?

The weather in the past few days has shown that we are becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Can the Minister therefore assure me that this Government will work with the international community to address the emissions problem, and does he agree that it is ironic that the most stricken areas are perhaps those with the greatest renewables potential?

Lastly, can the Minister assure me that he will do all that he can to ensure that the public receive all necessary warnings about future inclement weather, and that public safety is regarded as absolutely paramount?

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