The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for the creating sustainable communities policycommunities that are thriving, well run, active, inclusive and, importantly, safe. We are working hard to develop that culture of respect to which the question refers.
Mr. Robathan: The Government have placed fostering a culture of respect at the centre of their legislative programme in the Queen's Speech. Does the Minister agree that leadership by example is important? If so, does he think that the Deputy Prime Minister thumping people in the street and swearing at and insulting people in the Corridors of this House helps in fostering the culture of respect that we all wish to see in this country?
Mr. Woolas: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has just contributed to an increase in respect for Members of Parliament, and his party in particular. I thought it very unfortunate that the young thug attacked my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who is of course of pensionable age, and I would have thought that such thuggish behaviour would be condemned by the hon. Gentleman. The Government are working hard to foster the culture of respect across our society, and that is necessary because it was decimated in the previous 20 years.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): The FireControl project is due to complete its rollout by end of the financial year 200809. Any updates will be posted on the FireControl website (http://www.firecontrol.odpm.gov.uk).
I thank the Minister for that response, but there are concerns in Shrewsbury about power and authority being moved away from our area to regional areas and Birmingham. What assurances can he give to professionals in the fire service in Shrewsbury that their professional advice will be taken on board when decisions are made in the future?
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Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman makes a well rehearsed point. However, the fact is that most highly skilled control staff are under-used. In Shropshire, for example, they average nearly two hours between answering emergency calls and are employed on other tasks. The second point that I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind is that the best communications for our fire and rescue service are needed, including caller location systems and data transmission to fire crews. The Government are committed to providing that. Finally, in the post-September 11 world our emergency control centres need to be resilient against attack or natural disaster; many simply are not. We will have to do something about that and I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that there will be full consultation and that an announcement will be made soon.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements I know that the whole House will want to join me in conveying the condolences of the House on the death of the hon. Member for Cheadle, Patsy Calton. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family at this time.
I know that the whole House will also join me in sending our condolences to the family of Lance Corporal Brackenbury who was killed on duty in Iraq since the House rose on 27 May. He was doing an extraordinary and heroic job and the country can be very proud of him.
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough)
(Lab): My right hon. Friend may recall that on 9 March I raised with him in this place the issue of airgun safety. Since that occasion, we have seen the tragic death of yet another youngster, 12-year-old Alex Cole from Conisbrough in Doncaster near my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time to carry out a thorough review of the legislation relating to airguns and replica guns?
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The Prime Minister: I agree entirely about the problem to which my hon. Friend draws attention. It is partly for that reason that the violent crime Bill that will be published later today will include specific measures on the misuse of airguns. It will also tackle the problems of knives and alcohol-related disorder, ensuring that we can take a series of measures to deal not just with airguns but with the whole range of issues that cause concern in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere. We will keep the law on replica guns and airguns closely and tightly under review.
On the day when the United Nations reports that 3 million children in Africa will die of poverty by 2015 may I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success in persuading President Bush to agree to a programme of debt relief for Africa's poorest countries? As the Prime Minister knows, we stand four-square behind him on that, as we do on aid spending targets and the international finance facility. But does he agree that the best way to help developing countries would be to get rid of the barriers that both the United States and the European Union place in the way of their trading opportunities? Did he raise that issue with the President and if so what progress did he make?
The Prime Minister: Of course that was one of the issues we raised in the course of our discussions. I think it is important to emphasise that at Gleneagles we shall be trying to raise the whole range of issues that affect Africa. We are trying to put together a comprehensive plan that deals with aid, debt, trade, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, conflict resolution and the main killer diseases, but also governance and action against corruption. It is a comprehensive package; trade is a very important part of it and I hope that at the G8 summit we can make progress on that issue as well, to make sure that when we come to the World Trade Organisation negotiations later this year, which will try to set the trade rules for coming years, we have a bold and radical package that will help Africa and other parts of the world.
Mr. Howard: I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister did raise these issues with the President. Can he tell us whether he specifically raised the issue of US cotton subsidies, which have such a harmful effect on the economies of west and central Africa, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin and Chad? Did he raise the US Farm Act, which provides such an unfair advantage to American farmers at the expense of the developing world? Can he update the House on progress in tackling European Union export subsidies for agricultural goods sold to Africa? Do these, too, not help to impoverish developing countries, as well as wasting European taxpayers' money?
The Prime Minister:
Certainly, as part of the discussions with the Administration we raise all those issues, to do with not just American subsidies for agriculture but also European subsidies. The hope that I have is that we can at least agree certain principles.
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Obviously, this has to be negotiated in the World Trade Organisationthat is the proper place for the negotiationbut I hope that at the G8 summit we are able at the very least to negotiate certain principles that give a clear sense of direction to the people who will then take on the negotiation at the G8.
I think that there is every indication from the European side that they are prepared to take a more radical look at how we ensure that there is better access into our markets for the poorest countries in the world. It is worth pointing out that already, as a result of action taken by the European Union, we have allowed certain goods into our markets without tariffs being set. We have to take that further now.
The only thing I would emphasise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, is that, in my judgment, none of these issues has to be looked at in isolation. We could remove all the trade barriers to goods coming from those poorest countries into the wealthy countries' markets, but unless we build the capacity in those countriesthe infrastructureto enable them to handle that, it would not actually do them much good. So it is the package of measures together that will count.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): May I wish the Prime Minister well in his attempts to make climate change the centrepiece of the G8 discussions? Will he take the opportunity to remind the leaders who fly in there that, despite all the laudable gains that are being made by countries in terms of reducing carbon emissions, the one Achilles' heel that we share is that they are being overwhelmed by the growth in carbon emissions from aviation fuel? Will he take the opportunity to say that we have to set global targets and global caps on aviation fuel growth, which will wipe out all the other gains that we would hopefully achieve?
The Prime Minister: First, may I thank my hon. Friend for his good wishes? Thus fortified, I will take on the negotiations. In respect of climate change, he is right to say that aviation is an important part of any overall deal, and I hope that at the G8 summit it is possible to put together a plan of action for change that includes not merely issues to do with some of the more traditional things, such as motor vehicles, but also in respect of aviation. It will obviously be a hard challenge, for reasons that my hon. Friend understands, but I think that it is important that we make progress on it.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): May I thank both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative party for their tributes to our late colleague, Patsy Calton? Those of us who were in the Chamber when, just two weeks ago, she made the journey to Westminster to take the oath could not have been left in any doubt as to her courage and determination, and I am grateful for what the Prime Minister had to say.
Given the statement from the leading scientific bodies of the G8 countriesincluding, it should be said, the United Statesabout the fact that climate change is real and now demands prompt action, will the Prime
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Minister spell out to us, what prompt action the President of the United States agreed to during his discussions with him yesterday?
The Prime Minister: We have begun a discussion whichas I said a moment agowe hope will result in a plan for action at the G8 summit. Certain things are obvious. The United States Administration are not going to change their position suddenly, and sign up to Kyoto. On the other hand, although it is true that they approach the issue as much from the angle of energy security and supply as from that of climate change, there is an action plan to which I believe we can secure agreement at the G8, which will include specific measures to help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is also important for us to have some form of continuing process that locks in not just the United States of America but the emerging countries, particularly China and India, without which it is difficult to see how we can make progress.
Mr. Kennedy: I certainly accept the last point, but the Prime Minister must be the first to recognisegiven the position that he will assume in the second half of the yearthat unless the American President is fully on board, it will be impossible to achieve a consensus. The Prime Minister said some time ago that action on climate change would be one of the two main planks on which his presidency of the G8 would be judged. What will he salvage at Gleneagles if the American President will not sign up?
The Prime Minister: We have not reached the stage of the summit yet, so I do not think we are quite at the salvage stage of the operation. I am not saying that we will not get there, but we are not there yet.
When we decided to make Africa and climate change the two key issues at the summit, we were setting the bar pretty high for ourselves. But I think that that is important, because in my view climate change is, in the long term, the single biggest issue that we face. The brutal truth is that unless America is involved in a process of dialogue and action in the international community, we will not make progress on that issue.
Let us wait and see where we arrive at the summit. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will be doing my very best to persuade the United States and other countries that it is important for us to act. Obviously, it will be helpful for me to be able to say that I have his full backing.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Whaley Bridge town council on being the first to achieve quality council status? Will he ensure that all town and parish councils receive the support, encouragement and guidance that they need if they are use the powers given to them by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 to tackle antisocial behaviour at local level?
The Prime Minister:
I fully endorse what my hon. Friend has said. I hope that that is the first of many instances of the change we are introducing being able to deliver real benefits on the ground in local communities.
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Q2.  Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The vast majority of the country and the House will want to congratulate the Government, the Mayor of London and the bid team on the success of the International Olympic Committee appraisal on Monday, and on the fact that the prospects of the bid for the games now look so good. Will the Prime Minister assure us that all that he and his colleagues can do will be done between now and early July to try to win the bid for London? At the same time, will he ensure that British sports policy gives every child in every school a chance to be coached by a professional, so that children have the opportunity and potential to become Olympians themselves one day?
The Prime Minister: Obviously we will do all that we can to bring about a successful outcome of the bid for the 2012 games. This is not just a London bid; it is a United Kingdom bid, and it will benefit the whole country, not just London. It gives us a tremendous opportunity to make an important contribution to the Olympic legacy and the Olympic movement.
I fully support the idea of more sport in schools. That is why the Government are making a major investment in school sports co-ordinators, to ensure that kids have the sporting opportunities that they need at school. If we reach our target of four hours of sport a week for children who want it, it will make a great differenceand not just to the health and fitness of the country. I think that sport, including competitive sport, does a great deal for a child's development, and this will be an additional way of achieving more responsible citizenship.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite Nigeria's vast oil wealth, two thirds of its people live on less than $1 a day? Is he aware that, as a result of that poverty, young people in the Niger Delta are being recruited to militia gangs involved in bunkering, widespread violence and intimidation? Will he do all that he can to solve the problem of the Niger Delta and the corruption there? If we cannot solve the problem in Nigeria, what can we do about the rest of Africa?
The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend has raised this issue in an Adjournment debate, and he is right to draw attention to the specific problems of trying to help Nigeria. After all, Nigeria is the largest country by population in Africa. It is extremely important that we give it special attention and special help, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and others are looking now at what we can do to help Nigeria, specifically in relation to its debts; but it is important, as part of that, that it takes the necessary action, as I know that the President of Nigeria wants to do, in rooting out corruption and ensuring the principles of good governance.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
(Con): Does the Prime Minister agree with the President of France that the ratification process for the European constitution should continue?
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The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear the other day[Interruption.] I am afraid that he made it clear enough for me, and that is all that counts. He made it clear that, pending clarification of what has happened in France and Holland because they voted no, we do not intend to proceed with our referendum. However, what happens to the European constitution as a whole is not just a decision for Britainit is a decision for the whole European Unionand we will be in a better position to report back to the House after we have had a discussion at the European Council in a few days' time.
Mr. Howard: But I asked the Prime Minister for his view. The President of France has said that the ratification process should continueso has the Chancellor of Germany. Almost every other European leader has said the same thing. So are not the British people entitled to know what the British Prime Minister thinks? Does he agree with them or not?
The Prime Minister: And I have set out exactly what I think[Interruption]which is that, until the situation in France and Holland is clarified, there is no point in proceeding with the British referendum because the constitution needs the ratification of all the member states. Two member states are now in a position where they cannot ratify it. Unless that is changed, the constitution cannot proceed. All I am saying is that it is not for Britain on our own to say that the constitution is goneit must be a decision for the whole European Counciland it gains us absolutely nothing to take a decision now about what the European Council will do, when we have the European Council in a few days' time. At present, therefore, we are not proceeding with our referendum.
Let me see whether I can help the Prime Minister out of his dilemma on Europe. He may have been seduced, as so many people were, by the argument that our joining the euro was inevitable. Now we know that it is not. He may have been seduced by the argument that the constitution was inevitable. Now we know that it is not. Did not last week mark the end of inevitability in Europe? Does it not present us all with a great opportunity to develop a different kind of Europea flexible Europe in which the European Union does less, but does it better, and starts on the process of returning powers to Britain and the other member states?
The important thing about any of these debates is that Britain remains at the centre of them. I believe that the constitution represents a perfectly sensible way forward for Europe. However, two countries have now said no. That means that it cannot proceed. Until that position is clarified or changed, the constitution cannot proceed. Therefore, at the present time, we are not proceeding with our referendum.
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As for the single currency, I totally disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position. It seems sensible to keep our options open at all times, but let me remind him that, under the type of scepticism that he represents, when we came to power in 1997, this country had no influence in Europe whatsoever. [Interruption.] As a result of the changes that this Government have made, it is not Britain that is now in the dock on Europe. On the contrary, we are actually leading the debate about change in Europe.
"Substantial progress has been made in implementing the NHS Cancer Plan, with many targets in the Plan met or on course to be met. This should contribute to the downward trend in cancer mortality rates and continue to bring significant benefits to patients."
Locally, in both our general hospitals and the Clatterbridge centre for oncology trust, significant progress has been made. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that his Government will continue to support those trusts in the important work that they are undertaking?
The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Clatterbridge treatment centre has been a worthwhile investment of £1 million. As a result of all the changes that have been madenot just the extra money, but the reform in the treatment of cancer99 per cent. of patients with suspected cancer are now seen by a specialist within two weeks of being urgently referred, which is up from 63 per cent. in 1997. Far more people are being referred urgently under the two-week wait, and that is not only in percentage terms because the number is about double compared with even four years ago. That is a result of the investment going into our national health service, which is, of course, entirely opposed by the Conservative party.
Q5.  Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): In February this year, the Prime Minister's party promised urgent reform of the state pension system in this country. A couple of months later, on 22 May, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that consultation on that issue could last into the next Parliament. May we have a clear response from the Prime Minister today? Will there be major legislation for pensions reform in this Parliamentyes or no?
The Prime Minister:
The Pensions Commission is due to report later this year and we will bring forward proposals on the basis of the report. Whether there will be legislation depends on what those proposals are. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has quite rightly saidI repeated this during the election campaignthat if we were to introduce something such as compulsion, it would be right to go back to the electorate before that was done. Many changes could be brought into being in our pension system that would be of benefit if the commission reports in a particular way, although I do not know how it will report and we will have to wait and see what it recommends. On the basis of the report, however, I hope that we can start a debate in which it is possible to get some form of consensusacross the
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parties would be the best thingbecause any pension provision needs to endure for a considerable period of time. Whether or not legislation will be needed will depend on the outcome of the commission.
After she has finished her history A-level exam, which she is sitting right now, my constituent, Eniola Aluko, will be getting ready to join her team mates in the England football squad for tonight's eight-nation European championship match against Denmark. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Eniola and the rest of the team the best of luck, and will he also consider joining other hon. Members in the Jubilee Room when the Football Association is screening the match, which, if it is anything as exciting as the match against Finland, promises to be a very entertaining occasion?
The Prime Minister: I wish the women's football team, including my hon. Friend's constituent, the very best of luck. There was a fantastic win against Finland and I hope that the team does well against Denmark. One of the most encouraging aspects of the match against Finland, quite apart from the result, was the turnout of the crowd, which was almost 30,000 and thus a good augury for the future.
Q6.  Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The Prime Minister will know that the Scottish Parliament, and indeed yesterday the Welsh Assembly, voted against requiring identity cards for access to devolved public services. Given his known respect for, and commitment to, devolution, will he assure the House that no Labour Government will force identity cards to be a prerequisite for access to health and social services in Wales or Scotland?
The Prime Minister: First, in the initial stages, at least, identity cards are to be voluntary. If there is a move to compulsion, it will require a further vote in the House. The debate is just beginningit will begin during the course of the Bill that we will consider shortly. I hope that there will be a full debate in which people can understand that as a result of changes in biometric technology, and especially because we will have to change passports for everyone in this country, it is a sensible next step to ensure that we can have proper protection through identity cards against fraud and abuse.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that some large pubs and clubs in our city centres have a disproportionate pull on police services and council cleansing services? Is it not about time that they made a financial contribution to pay for the policing and the clearing up of our streets?
The Prime Minister:
It is important to consider that in addition to all the other powers that we want to introduce, we have already given the police the power to shut a pub or club for 24 hours and to trigger a review of the licence if fights and disorder constantly take place there. The purpose of the alcohol disorder zone is to give an additional power, in circumstances in which nothing
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else makes a difference, to ensure that in that area the people who run licensed premises come together and do something about the problem.
The range of new powers that have been given to the police will be valuable, but they require the full co-operation of licensed premises. On those premises where there are continual fightsThursday, Friday, Saturday nights and at other times, tooand it is difficult for people to go into town centres without being in fear for their own safety, such behaviour is completely unacceptable. During the course of the legislation, we are determined to take whatever measures are necessary to give the police the power to stamp out the problem.
Q7.  David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): If education is such a priority for this Labour Government, can the Prime Minister tell us why Torfaen Labour council is trying to shut down the best performing school in its borough? Would the Prime Minister care to investigate that matter? Will he also offer a few words of support to local parents, who will meet the council today to ask why that well run and well supported local school is being shut down by a Labour council that cannot keep its books in order?
The Prime Minister: First, I obviously do not know enough about the circumstances of the particular school, but those decisions have to be taken at a local level. If I have read correctly the Conservative party document on schooling issued a short time ago, it says that it is essential that there is greater devolution of school decisions to local people and local authorities. That local devolution is precisely what will be followed. I do not know enough about the circumstances of the individual case, but I am happy to look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.
Q8.  Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Thames Valley police, Reading borough council and residents of the Dee Park estate in my constituency on achieving a 26 per cent. reduction in crime as a result of the successful use of antisocial behaviour orders? However, does he agree that much more needs to be done to encourage young people to engage in constructive activities to divert them away from drugs and crime? Does he agree that respect is a two-way
The Prime Minister: Yes, but I agree with all three. It is important that we have measures on antisocial behaviour. Whereas they were controversial at first, they are working and have the support of practically the whole House. At the same time, however, my hon. Friend is right in saying that we have to emphasise proper youth activities. Extended schools with proper pre and after-school clubs have a role to play, as do proper youth services and facilities for our young people. I also think that although the Sure Start programme, and the extension of it, will not yield visible benefits for many years, it will play a part. That is why he is entirely right: as well as tough measures, we also need local youth provision.
Q9.  Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
(Con): As the Prime Minister may be aware, last month saw the
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third anniversary of the Potters Bar rail crash. Is he also aware that the bereaved families have been refused proper compensation and are still waiting for a decision on a public inquiry? Is he prepared to meet a delegation from the families to hear their case?
The Prime Minister: I shall try to get back to the hon. Gentleman with answers to the points he raises. I do not know the exact position at the present time in relation to the inquiry, but I shall look into it myself and write to him. In respect of the meeting, I cannot give a promise at this point, but I shall certainly consider it.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
(DUP): Will the Prime Minister inquire into what is happening regarding
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the Stormont estate? I understand that a decision has been taken to sell off that beautiful estate, which is used by all the people of Northern Ireland, whatever their religion or beliefs. I think that the Prime Minister should look into the widespread rumours of the sell-off.
The Prime Minister: I am trying to work out what the shaking head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland really means. I had better make inquiries, lest I over-interpret the sign language. I shall look into the details, but my understanding is that there is no intention to sell off Stormont or the park. I have heard of no such proposal.