Previous SectionIndexHome Page


7. Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): If he will make a statement on levels of unemployment in Northern Ireland. [10658]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): A strong and stable economy and policies such as the new deal have led to unemployment falling by more than 50 per cent. Seasonally adjusted figures from the labour force survey for the period March to May 2005 estimate that 38,000 people are unemployed in Northern Ireland and that the unemployment rate is 4.9 per cent.

Mr. Anderson: I thank the Minister for that positive response. Does she agree that the proposals for public service reform could have an impact on the level and conditions of employment in Northern Ireland? Does she agree that early and positive meetings with trade unions in Northern Ireland would commit to full implementation of the Warwick agreement, as agreed in the manifesto, in Northern Ireland?

Angela E. Smith: My hon. Friend has considerable experience and a good track record on these issues. I assure him that I regularly meet the trade unions, particularly on areas of public service reform. The Warwick agreement was very wide and there are different legislation issues in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, I give him an absolute commitment that as we take forward matters that impact on public sector employees we will want to ensure that workers in Northern Ireland are not left behind. I guarantee that I will meet the trade unions on this issue.

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Will the Minister indicate what steps she is taking to replace the thousands of jobs lost by those in my constituency who were employed in manufacturing? Will she spell out what initiatives Invest Northern Ireland is engaged in to attract jobs into Strangford?

Angela E. Smith: We have several initiatives. Invest Northern Ireland has worked very hard with employers looking to bring in investment. The Bombardier initiative will have an impact across Northern Ireland in providing jobs. It is important that when we work with Invest Northern Ireland and small businesses in providing training and skills—I have met a number of people undertaking such programmes—we ensure that everybody in Northern Ireland can share in the prosperity as we continue on the track of providing employment.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [11627] Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 13 July.
13 Jul 2005 : Column 826

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am sure that the whole House will join me in continuing to send our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims of last Thursday's attacks, who must be suffering appalling distress at this time. They are in our thoughts and prayers.

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.

Keith Vaz: There has been a profound sense of unity in Britain since the events of last Thursday. The Prime Minister has rightly said that he will use every effort to ensure that the perpetrators and planners of these terrorist attacks are brought to justice, and he will have our full support in doing so. Is he aware that in the past seven days there have been more than 100 reported race hate attacks on members of the British Asian community? Will he ensure that he and his Ministers take every step necessary to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice, and that no individual or organisation will be allowed to imperil the diverse and multicultural society that is Britain today and which is the envy of the world?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the whole House will agree with the sentiments that my hon. Friend has outlined and expressed. Perhaps before I come to his point I should say a word of congratulations to our police and security services on the magnificent work that they have done. As I saw for myself when I visited their joint operations, they have in place an extraordinary system that should give people a lot of heart and hope.

I should also say to the House that the number of confirmed dead still stands at 52. There are some 50 injured in hospital, of whom 12 are in intensive care.

I would simply say to my hon. Friend that I entirely agree as to what he says in respect of the unity of the country and in condemning utterly any attacks against innocent members of our community.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I join the Prime Minister in expressing our sympathy to those who have suffered such terrible losses, and in the congratulations that he has offered to the police and the security services on the outstanding work that they have carried out following last week's tragic events.

What we now know is appalling to contemplate. It will take us a long time to come to terms with the fact that these atrocities appear to have been committed by those who were born and brought up in our midst. Does the Prime Minister agree that those responsible for last week's carnage were not acting in the name of Islam but were perverting its teachings? Will he join me and the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in condemning the attacks that have taken place on mosques? Is it not the case that anyone who reaches for a stone to throw at the window of a mosque and anyone who nurtures resentment against our Muslim community is the enemy of us all, because they would be acting in the way the terrorists want us to act, thus helping them to achieve their objective of dividing us one from another?
13 Jul 2005 : Column 827

The Prime Minister: Once again, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his strong and supportive stance. I believe that it has brought a lot of comfort to people in the country to know that the main political parties are together on the matter. I agree that there will be a sense of profound shock and anxiety in the country about what has happened, and a need and a willingness to act.

I should like briefly to address four aspects of action that we need to take. First, in accordance with the timetable to publish new anti-terrorism legislation in the autumn, we intend to begin the process of consultation with the other main parties in the next couple of weeks. As we have already said, the legislation will focus on the measures that the police and security services say are necessary. It will focus especially on measures to combat the incitement and instigation of terrorism as well as the acts themselves. Meanwhile, we will use control orders when necessary under existing legislation.

Secondly, we will look urgently at how we strengthen the procedures to exclude people from entering the United Kingdom who may incite hatred or act contrary to the public good, and at how we deport such people, if they have come here, more easily. However, again, we want to consult fully on any measures or procedures undertaken.

We all know that security measures alone will not tackle the problem. We are dealing not with an isolated criminal act but with an extreme and evil ideology, the roots of which lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam. Thirdly, therefore, as was urged upon me this morning by our Muslim Members of Parliament, whose leadership and good sense I praise, we will seek to debate the right way forward in combating that evil in the Muslim community with Muslim leaders. We intend to begin that process immediately. In the end, only the community itself can take on and defeat it, but we can all help and facilitate. We will do so, and I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has kindly indicated his willingness to participate in such a dialogue. I hope that other leaders will do so, too.

Fourthly, we are talking to other nations, Muslim and non-Muslim, about how to mobilise internationally the moderate and true voice of Islam. Such action is taking place around the world, but we need to ascertain how it can be better co-ordinated, publicised and driven through.

Meanwhile, and finally, I ask for the same measured and calm response from the country that has characterised it since last Thursday. We are considering a small group of extremists. It cannot be ignored because of the danger it poses, but it should not define Muslims in Britain, who are overwhelmingly law-abiding, decent members of our society. We condemn any attacks against them unreservedly.

Mr. Howard: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer. I welcome his decision to meet the leaders of the Muslim community, and, as he said, I have accepted his invitation to join in those meetings. We also stand ready to work through, with the Government, their legislative proposals and, more generally, the security implications of what we now know.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the peril that we face extends far beyond our shores, has taken the lives of countless Muslims and is part of a criminal
13 Jul 2005 : Column 828
conspiracy to destroy our shared way of life? What scope does he envisage for greater international action to deal with the terrible danger that we face?

The Prime Minister: Again, I agree entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is my intention later today to issue a list, which we have been able to put together pretty quickly, of different attacks that have taken place round the world. It excludes attacks in Iraq or Afghanistan, but includes those virtually from the attack on the World Trade Centre in February 1993 onwards. People have been able to see that this process stretches back many years. It encompasses many different countries and thousands of people have been victims of it.

It is heartening, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman implies, that there is a sense in the international community in the Muslim world that this issue has to be taken on. I know of conferences that have either just taken place or are taking place in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, for example. Such countries are now focusing clearly on how the ground may be recaptured for moderate Islam, which is the true voice of Islam, as we know. It is our intention to see what help and support we can give. We are having discussions not only with those Muslim countries but with others as well to determine how we can get real international support and an understanding of how important the issue is, so that, in the countries where the roots of this sometimes grow, through twisted teaching and through the violence that is taught to young people at a very early age, we can pull up this evil ideology by its roots. It is important, particularly after the shock of discovering that those who perpetrated this were born and brought up in this country, that we recognise the worldwide dimension of this, and the need therefore to tackle it internationally.

Mr. Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister share my assessment that yesterday's events represent the most profound challenge yet faced by the British Muslim community? Condemnation is not enough, and British Muslims must confront the voices of evil head on, as I believe they are prepared to do. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that, rather than dividing us, these evil voices will serve to unite the British people in our resolve to deal with them? This is a defining moment for this country. Does the Prime Minister share my confidence that the Muslim community and the wider community will play their role, and that they are equal to the challenge? I can assure him that my constituency of Dewsbury will not be found wanting in that regard.

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for that; it is particularly important that he has stood up in the House today and said it. It will give heart to people not only in the Muslim community but beyond it in this country.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): I too reiterate the shared sense of deep sympathy for those suffering distress as a result of the loss of their loved ones last week. May I also add my voice to the congratulations to the police on the fine work that they have done? We all undoubtedly share a sense of national
13 Jul 2005 : Column 829
dismay that these terrorists were British, and it is incumbent on all of us to keep stressing the fact that the vast majority of British Muslims totally condemn the bombings that took place in London last week. It certainly makes sense now for the three party leaderships to stand as one with the Muslim community on that basis, and in so doing, for us all to demonstrate together that this is an issue not for members of the Muslim community alone, but for all of us who share this country and who share British citizenship with them.

The Prime Minister: Obviously I agree with those sentiments. It is important that we all stand together at this moment.

Mr. Kennedy: Following what the Prime Minister said in the House on Monday, I thank him for amplifying today that he will consider on a cross-party basis any further anti-terrorism legislation, including measures covering acts preparatory to terrorism, that might be brought before the House. As part of our presidency of the European Union, the Home Secretary is today very sensibly chairing a special meeting of his opposite numbers in Brussels, at which he hopes to reach agreement on the retention of e-mail and phone data as part of any anti-terrorism legislation. Leaving aside the merits of what the Home Secretary is pursuing, how confident are the Government that he will have the support of the other European Governments, and that the service providers will have the capacity to store the data that will be required?

The Prime Minister: I am confident that other European countries, the majority of which face the same type of threat, will be supportive. I am sure that they will be. The exchange and retention of data are a very important part of dealing with the issue. As I saw at the joint operations centre, it is absolutely vital that we receive co-operation from intelligence services across the board to defeat such terrorism. Links are seldom confined to one country—wherever those who engage in terrorist acts come from, they have almost always had strong links with the outside world.

Q2. [11628] Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I, too, commend and praise the police and security services for their swift and effective identification of the evil extremists who brought death and misery to our streets last week. Will the Prime Minister join me, however, in condemning those right-wing extremists in the British National party, in Barking and elsewhere, who are cynically and sickly trying to exploit people's tragedy, anguish and understandable anger over the barbaric attack in order to score cheap but dangerous political points? Does not the British National party shame itself and slur the word "British"?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. If we are right in saying that these terrorist attacks are an attack on our way of life, it is most important to say that part of our way of life is tolerance and respect for other people of different races, religions and faiths. It is therefore particularly revolting for anyone to try to exploit these attacks for the purpose of racism.
13 Jul 2005 : Column 830

Q3. [11629] Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The tube terrorists were British, but does the Prime Minister agree that many of those who organise terrorist training, build terrorist bombs and preach a message of hate from British pulpits have come in from abroad? Will he further agree that it is both unfortunate and unacceptable that Parliament should be forbidden by the highest court in this country from distinguishing between its handling of British citizens on the one hand, and the arrangements that it makes for foreign terror suspects who claim asylum in this country on the other?

The Prime Minister: It is important that we recognise that this issue has a series of different dimensions. One dimension is of those abroad who try to instil and inculcate this extremist ideology and fanaticism in people, and another is of people who come here to preach it. We must deal with every single aspect of it. That is also a reason why the idea of developing electronic borders, which will allow us to track more carefully people coming into our country, which we are undertaking now and which will take some time to build up because of the technology involved, will be essential in the medium term to protect the integrity of our borders.

Q4. [11630] Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that our right hon. Friend the Chancellor told European Finance Ministers yesterday that they must step up their actions to seize terrorist assets—a move, I think, that will be supported by the whole House. Those same sentiments, however, were expressed following the terrorist attacks in Madrid last year. What action is the EU taking now to ensure that all member states have in place the powers to freeze the assets of those terrorist organisations?

The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, we have taken action against some 45 different individuals and groups to freeze their assets. He rightly said yesterday that there can be no hiding place for the terrorists and those who finance them. It is fair to say that co-operation has increased tremendously across Europe over the past few years. In particular, I commend the help that the Spanish police and authorities have been giving us. It is also true that that now needs to be stepped up, because the threat, as people can see, is very real.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I associate myself fully with the expressions of condolence and sympathy from the Prime Minister earlier, and on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party fully support the Government in their efforts to bring to justice the awful men and, I presume, women who are responsible for the attack?

On an entirely separate matter, which is quite urgent, will the Prime Minister intervene personally to alleviate the problems of many licensees in Wales who have availed themselves of the right, under the Welsh Language Act 1993, to submit forms through the medium of the Welsh language? The deadline is 6 August and no such forms exist. Is the Prime Minister not a little discomfited that 12 years since the passing of that Act, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport,
13 Jul 2005 : Column 831
of all Departments, has no Welsh language scheme? Does he not now agree that there is a need for a proper, new and robust Welsh language Act?

The Prime Minister: I will look into what the hon. Gentleman says, but I understand from my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Culture, Media and Sport that urgent discussions are taking place on this issue.

Q5. [11631] Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): While echoing the sentiments expressed on terrorism, may I, too, turn to another topic? Is the Prime Minister aware of the continuing concern of hard-working public servants, particularly teachers and local government employees, that the Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2004, which were laid before the House last year, have not yet been revoked? Will the Prime Minister give the House and those public servants an assurance that the regulations will be revoked as soon as possible, that no changes will be made to the pension rights of public servants and teachers until full negotiation takes place with the public sector trade unions, and that, should we get rid of final-salary pensions and bring in pensions based on average earnings, that arrangement will be binding on this House and on Ministers of the Crown?

The Prime Minister: I understand that a statement about changes to the regulatory scheme is being made today. I entirely agree, as do all the stakeholders involved, that local authority employees should have a good quality, stable and viable pension scheme. The question is how to do that and how to get the balance right between cost of provision to employers and to the taxpayer, and the value of the benefits to scheme members who pay fixed contributions. That is exactly the issue that we are addressing in the statement later today. I know, however, that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's tripartite committee is ensuring the full involvement of local authority employers and trade unions. I doubt whether we will be able to satisfy everybody on this issue, but we are doing our level best to find the right balance.

Q6. [11632] Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): My constituent, Joseph, a little boy with complex learning and medical problems, was not suited to mainstream education. He was ostracised by other children, became very poorly and at the age of only eight, he tried to kill himself in order to escape his misery. He is now at Cedar Hall special school, where he is thriving in every possible way. He is happy now. Does the Prime Minister think that special schools are worth keeping? Does he think that the Government's audit of special schools is serious, given that they are being closed, and will he look into the funding of Cedar Hall special school and ensure that it is retained?

The Prime Minister: Of course I value special schools. The question of whether to close a particular school or how to make such provision is decided through the local authority, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman's local authority—[Hon. Members: "Tory"]—is Essex county council, so he can make representations to it about how provision in the area works. But let me make absolutely
13 Jul 2005 : Column 832
clear my own view, which is that there will be circumstances in which the right thing for the children is to integrate them in mainstream schooling; however, I totally agree that, equally, there will be situations in which that is quite the wrong thing to do. Both types of provision have to be available, therefore, but I really do believe that the best mix is better determined locally, rather than nationally.

Q7. [11633] Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Here in London on 26 May, my right hon. Friend made a speech during which he said that Europe

He quoted the food supplements directive as an example. In the light of yesterday's very disappointing ruling from the European Court of Justice, and bearing in mind the fact that Britain now holds the EU presidency, will my right hon. Friend be making representations in Europe so that we can continue to sell safe and popular food supplements on the shelves of British food stores?

The Prime Minister: We will certainly do our best to ensure that that is the case. I can tell my hon. Friend that I understand that the Food Standards Agency has given derogations to some 500 different substances. I would also say that it is important that any control regime should be extremely light touch, and we are doing our level best to make sure that that is the case. In addition, there is the issue of maximum dosages, which it is also important for us to handle in a way that accords with common sense rather than a somewhat exaggerated view of the dangers.

Q8. [11634] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Our NHS is obviously the envy of the world and we should congratulate all those who worked so hard last week in the wake of the terrorist activity. Is the Prime Minister aware that many of the hospital trusts in south-east London are overspent and running out of money? Why does he think that is happening; what is he planning to do about it; and will he reassure patients that services will not be cut?

The Prime Minister: It is worth pointing out that the actual amount of deficit compared with the amount of money going into the health service is very small indeed. In fact, the deficits are far below what they were in the mid-1990s, for example, and I would like to point that out to the hon. Gentleman. In addition, as a result of the extra investment in the NHS, waiting lists in his and other areas have come down, as have waiting times: more people are being treated and more people are being treated better. Without re-running the arguments of a few months ago, it is surely the case that we have got the NHS improving only as a result of the extra investment plus the change. The worst thing that we could do, of course, would be to reverse those policies.

Q9. [11635] Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): The events of last Thursday overshadowed the elation that we all felt on Wednesday when it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic games. One of the reasons why we were awarded those games is that we stressed that they would be for the benefit not just of this country
13 Jul 2005 : Column 833
but of the whole world. Will my right hon. Friend share his initial thoughts on how he intends to ensure that the benefits of the games are spread to places such as Wigan and, indeed, throughout the whole country?

The Prime Minister: I have to be careful about what I promise my hon. Friend in relation to the Olympic facilities. We are determined to ensure that the legacy of the Olympic games will accrue not just to the benefit of London, though a whole area of London will be regenerated. As a result of our success, there will be sports facilities all over the country. One of the reasons why our bid was so strong and ultimately successful is that we made it clear that the Olympic games of 2012 would leave a legacy not just for the Olympic movement, but for our country and for sport in our country. That was one of the principal reasons that swung the bid our way.

Q10. [11636] Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Prime Minister's answer on the vitamins directive simply will not wash with the 1 million people who signed a petition against it. Does the Prime Minister remember that on 26 May he described this directive, albeit belatedly, as

If the Prime Minister is not to be regarded as impotent, will he tell us what action he is taking in that regard?

The Prime Minister: I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman was about to suggest a vitamin! What is important here is to make sure that, in respect of existing legislation, things are done in a very light-touch way, which we will do. However, there is still a further stage, which is connected with the business of maximum dosage. That is where it is important to ensure that we do not end up with a situation in which the action taken is wholly disproportionate. That is what we will be working towards.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): While I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the fight against terrorism, will he acknowledge that during the last few years there has been a series of reports that have set out both the symptoms and the causes of alienation among Muslim young people? While it would be crass in the extreme to suggest a direct cause-and-effect link between the two, is it not the case that extremists fish for a few vulnerable people in that pool of alienation? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House today that he will look again at the evidence of the challenges facing young Muslim people and assess
13 Jul 2005 : Column 834
the response that is necessary not just from within the Muslim community, but from the majority community as a whole?

The Prime Minister: What my right hon. Friend says is right, and that is precisely what we will do. The point that I was trying to make earlier is the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) also made very well. It is that there is sensible leadership in the Muslim community that is prepared to stand up and be counted and take on the extremists. It is important that those people do that, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that it is also important that the rest of us get behind them and support them. We must study the reasons and causes behind what has happened, but I fear that it is not something that can be dealt with just by our country alone. When we look at the network of extremism that now exists right around the world and the means of communication that terrorists have, it is clear that, although we must deal with the problem in our own community, it will not be resolved finally until it is dealt with in every community in which it is incubated. That is what happens: young people get indoctrinated in an extreme and poisonous version—and perversion—of the religion of Islam, but nonetheless we must confront the fact that it exists.

Next Section IndexHome Page