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6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)
(Con): What recent representations he has received from small firms' organisations in Wales on central Government regulation. 
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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions with small business organisations in Wales. The latest took place as recently as last Friday, when I attended a Cardiff chamber of commerce function. There was delight at the buoyant state of the economy under this Government.
Mr. Bellingham: Is the Secretary of State aware that all the small organisations representing firms in Wales are united in their opposition to the United Kingdom giving up its opt-out from the working time directive? They believe that if we give it up, many jobs will be put at risk. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Labour MEPs have voted to give up the opt-out? What is his view?
Mr. Hain: My view is the view of the Government, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well. Last year, when he asked me the very same question, I told him that we had seen 19 consecutive months of business growth in Wales I am delighted to tell him that we have now seen 27 consecutive months of business growth in Wales. Answering his questions is a real treat.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in towns such as Wrexham, small business is doing very well thanks to innovative and exciting projects such as the new e-business incubator. We are changing the face of employment in Wrexham, so that more people are self-employed and more people are doing well for themselves. Is that not welcome, and is it not about time we started talking Wales up rather than down?
Mr. Hain: Yes, Wales is now doing better than it has for generations as a result of the economic stability established by the Government. There is a record number of jobs, more than there have ever been in our history, and business start-ups are taking place all the time, in Wrexham as elsewhere. That will ensure that the growth that has continued for the last eight years of the Labour Government will continue in the future. That is the future of Wales, which is striving to be world-classas opposed to its miserable state under the Tories.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues. Investigations of misconduct are internal matters for police authorities to determine according to their own procedures and protocols.
David T.C. Davies:
The Minister will be well aware that 13 police officers remain suspended at a cost of around £300,000 a year. Other cases have collapsed
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owing to lack of evidence. The clerk to the North Wales police authority has been cleared of misconduct by the courts, but has still not been reinstated. Does the Minister agree that the situation is wholly unsatisfactory, is costing large amounts of taxpayers' money and is reducing the number of police officers available to deal with the rise in crime for which his Government are responsible?
Nick Ainger: It would obviously be wrong for me to comment on any case that is currently under investigation, but the hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned the clerk to the North Wales police authority. Mr. Peter Bolton was offered reinstatement earlier this month, but is currently taking legal advice before deciding whether to accept. It is possible that the matter could be taken to court, and it would therefore be wholly inappropriate for me to comment.
8. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What discussions he has had with colleagues in the Cabinet and in the National Assembly for Wales on the economic consequences of job losses in Wales caused by the closure of Jobcentre Plus offices; and if he will make a statement. 
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have had regular discussions. In order to release resources to frontline services, Jobcentre Plus offices are being modernised in Wales to deliver more flexible services.
Mr. Llwyd: Is the Minister aware that 70 per cent. of jobcentre job cuts in Wales will fall within the objective 1 area? Is he aware that a few months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and I went to see the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson)? We had to produce a map of Wales to show him how the service would be decimated by the proposed cuts.
Those jobs are vital in the objective 1 areas. Time and again, the Minister says that he fights Wales's corner. When did he fight Wales's corner in this regard? Did he lie down like his supine colleagues in the National Assembly Government? When will he stand up for Wales?
I stand up for Wales every day of the week. That should be compared with Plaid Cymru, which wants to take Wales out of the United Kingdom and condemn it to misery. I should remind the hon. Gentleman that a new 300-plus-seat contact centre in Bangoran objective 1 area near his constituencywill open next year. Staff numbers at the contact centre in Bridgendanother objective 1 areaare doubling from 150 to 300. The truth is that the picture that he paints is completely distorted, as is every other allegation that Plaid Cymru makes about Wales.
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The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families of the three British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq over the weekend. They were doing a vital and heroic job in helping that country to democracy, and we can be very proud of them.
Kelvin Hopkins: My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised with the Leader of the House at last week's business questions the disgracefully low pay and poor conditions endured by our parliamentary cleaners. This morning, my hon. Friend and I and other Members visited a picket line of our striking cleaners to show our solidarity with them. Will my right hon. Friend take time to ensure that representations are made to the House authorities to reach a fair and satisfactory conclusion to this dispute?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House raised this issue on colleagues' behalf at the meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday. Ultimately, this is a matter for the House authorities. The dispute is a commercial matter, but I understand that the House authorities continue to work with the contractors to seek a satisfactory outcome for everybody concerned.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in the condolences that he expressed over the loss of our servicemen in Iraq. The thousands of men and women who daily risk their lives on our behalf are constantly in our minds, and we must never take what they do for granted.
May I ask the Prime Minister about the progress being made in the four areas of action in response to the tragedy of 7 July that he outlined a week ago? I welcome the meeting that we had with Muslim leaders yesterday. Can he now set out more details of the taskforce being established to take matters forward?
The Prime Minister:
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for coming, with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, to yesterday's meeting. Over the next few days, those who were present at that meeting will work with the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to establish a network of people who will go out into the community and take the very clear message about the mainstream Muslim community and its views throughout the country. They have also agreed to a meeting with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, who raised at yesterday's meeting a very
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important point: the desire to make sure that sufficient numbers of people are recruited into the police from the Muslim community. He also expressed his very strong sense that, just as the police have considerably improvedI think that everyone will accept thistheir community relations over the past few years, over the next few years we need to ensure that that finds its response and echo in people from the Muslim community joining the police force, and being willing to serve in it.
Mr. Howard: Last week, the Prime Minister also said that the Government would look urgently at strengthening procedures to exclude people from entering the UK who might incite hatred or act contrary to the public good, and at how those already here might be more easily deported. What progress has been made in that area and does he agree that there is room for greater use of existing powers to ban people whose presence here is not conducive to the public good?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I do agree with that. It is very important that people understand that we are a tolerant and decent country, but that the rights that we give to people here should not be abused. I am sure that that is the overwhelming sentiment of the country, so we do need to look at broadening the list of grounds for exclusion, and at using existing exclusion powers more broadly. The Home Secretary is going to make an oral statement on this issue shortly and we are also attempting to conclude memorandums of understanding with countries to which we want to return those whom we want to deport.
Part of the problem has been that, even if we wish to deport people, we have sometimes been stopped from doing so on the ground that the country to which they are to be deported may not pay sufficient regard to their human rights. However, we are trying to conclude a series of memorandums of understanding with those countries and I understand that one was concluded this morning with Jordan, which will help us in respect of certain cases.
Mr. Howard: The Prime Minister also referred a week ago to the need for international action, on which he has just touched. Since then, there has been a particular focus on Pakistan, where the Government and President Musharraf have pledged their full support in the fight against terrorism. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the work that is being carried out with the Government of Pakistan, including keeping the madrassahs under closer scrutiny?
The Prime Minister:
Yes, I can. I have spoken to President Musharraf about it and there is a real willingness and desire on the part of the Pakistani Government to deal with the madrassahs that are preaching this type of extremism. I think that we all know that the roots go very deep and are not always to be found in our own country, but in other countries, too. We are also looking into the possibility of holding a conference that would bring together some of the main countries that are areas of concern and that have been closely involved in these issues in order to take concerted action across the world to try to root out this type of extremist teaching.
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About 26 countries have suffered from al-Qaeda and its associated networks since 1993. Obviously, there is a huge well of support and understanding for the problems that we have recently faced in this country. We need to be very clear that, although the terrorists will use all sorts of issues to justify what they do, the roots of it go very deep and are often not to be found in this country alone, so international action is also necessary.
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer and he will know that I entirely agree with the sentiments that he has just expressed. I also welcome the discussions that took place with the Home Secretary on Monday about counter-terrorism legislation and the Government's agreement to our suggestion that their new legislation should be considered separately from the issue of control orders. Will the Government also give further consideration to our proposals, which they have previously rejected, to allow the use of intercept evidence in court?
The Prime Minister: I am very happy to go back and consult the security services and the police about that. My own view has always been that if we can use intercept evidence, we should, because of the obvious value that it can provide in certain cases. The difficulty is that, up to now, we have been advised by the security services that the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. However, in the light of what has happened, it is obviously sensible to go back and consult them again. It is not an issue on which there is an objection of principle to using such evidence. On the contrary, as a matter of principle, I would prefer to use it rather than not use it, but we have to take account of our advice.
I understand that we are going to have a meeting next week about the new legislation. I am pleased at the progress that has been made in co-operation with the Opposition and we will have a further opportunity to run through some of these issues again. I will make sure that we can provide an update then. It is the right approach to try to take action in every single one of these related spheres: in respect of the legislation, we must ensure that it is tightened, where necessary; in respect of those who preach and incite hatred, we want enhanced ability to deport them where they are not British citizens; in respect of international action; and in respect also of our own Muslim community. We are now moving forward in the right direction on a series of fronts. Once again, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support, as it has been very important to send out a unified signal to the country.
Mr. Howard: I look forward to our discussions next week. The Prime Minister will know that, just two years ago, the Newton report pointed out that the Republic of Ireland is the only country with a ban as extensive as ours on the use of intercept evidence and I look forward to discussing those matters with him further next week.
The Prime Minister: Obviously, JTAC staff have to make up their minds according to the information that they have at any particular time. It is important to recognise that, partly through JTAC, our security services and police do an enormous amount of work in gathering information, from our own country and from all around the world. Inevitably, they have to base their judgments on the information that they receive, but I am satisfied that they do everything possible to protect our country. Although it is terrible that the terrorist attacks in London took place, it is none the less worth pointing out that, over the past few years, our security services and police have done an immense amount to protect this country. It is important to recognise that, but of course those services are looking the whole time at ways to improve their systems.
When I visited last week, I saw for myself what an extraordinarily motivated and committed group the JTAC people are. They work literally around the clock to do their best to protect our country. Obviously, they have to make their assessments on the information that they have at the time, but it is important to make one other point as well. I shall not comment on intelligence material that is sometimes discussed in the newspapers, but I point out that JTAC staff all the time have to strike a balance in any judgment about an individual that they make. One thing is for sure: if they make a wrong assessment, they can become embroiled in arguments about interfering with people's rights, and so on, but they do everything that they can to try to protect our country. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House that, from the work that I have seen, the benefit of the doubt each time is given to the protection of this country above all else.
Q2.  Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): The Healthcare Commission published its "The State of Healthcare 2005" report on Monday. The report shows that there has been a dramatic reduction in hospital waiting times and an improvement in the treatment and care of people suffering from cancer and coronary heart disease, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to do still more to improve health inequalities? On the Windmill Hill estate in my constituency, the Halton primary care trust has recently withdrawn GPs' surgeries. Will he join me in pressing Halton PCT to reinstate GP services, so that better health facilities can be enjoyed across the whole of my constituency? Will he also say something to encourage people to use NHS Direct?
The Prime Minister: I certainly agree that we must carry on with the improvements that are taking place. Although the Healthcare Commission report said that certain services still had a long way to go and needed to be improved, its main point is worth noting. The report states:
"This year's report identifies much that should be celebrated. People are now able to gain access to many healthcare services more quickly and easily than in the past . . . Other improvements, such as better access to drugs and operations, are helping to produce better outcomes for people with cancer and coronary heart disease."
We are only halfway through the NHS plan that we published in 2000, so it is bound to be the case that we still have a distance to go. However, the overall picture is that the NHS is getting better all the time.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): May I also extend my party's tributes to the families of the three British service personnel so tragically killed in Iraq as they courageously carried out their duties? Specifically on Iraq, has the Prime Minister seen or heard the rather devastating report compiled by the BBC's John Simpson about the escalating violence there? Did he hear the assertion made yesterday by Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan that he considered Iraq to be heading for civil war, and does he agree with that assessment?
The Prime Minister: No, I do not agree with that assessment, but, obviously, there is a very serious situation, particularly when, for example, one of the Sunni representatives on the constitutional committee was assassinated yesterday, simply for trying to play his part in bringing about a democratic Iraq. But the issue that I come back to the whole time is, if that terrorism is happening in Iraq and it is aimed at destroying the possibility of that country becoming a democracy, what should our response be. My response is to stand firm and see it through because, in the end, if Iraq becomes the country that Iraqis want it to benamely, a democracythat will send a hugely powerful signal out not just to Iraq and the region, but against that type of terrorism the world over.
Mr. Kennedy: Specifically, in response to the considered response that the Prime Minister has given and as this is the last time that we can question him before 10 Octoberwho knows what might develop in Iraq during that coming periodwill he therefore give us an estimate today, before we head into recess, about how long he believes a substantial British force must continue to be deployed in Iraq?
The Prime Minister: I cannot give a specific date. What I can say is that the strategy that is being pursued is, first, to build the democratic process in Iraq. That democratic process is supported by the 8 million Iraqis who came to vote, by the United Nations and by anyone who wants Iraq to become the country that it could be. That constitutional process will continue with the drafting of the constitution and then with the parliamentary elections in December. The second thing is to build up the capability of the Iraqi security forces themselves. That capability is being built the entire time. Indeed, the Iraqi forces are actually taking on many of the patrols down in the south now. Even around Baghdad, there are now joint multinational forces and Iraqi operations.
Those are the two key things, but as President Karzai of Afghanistan said yesterday, the same perverted ideology that is trying to kill people in whatever country it can is trying to prevent Afghanistan and Iraq from becoming democracies. What is important sometimes, when people talk about their concern for Iraq or Afghanistan, is to let the legitimate voices of those people who have supported democracy in those countries be heard and to let them be the people who
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represent the true voice of Iraq and Afghanistannot the representatives of the ideology that is trying to kill decent folk in both countries.
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): May I praise my right hon. Friend for his great courage and conviction in tackling terrorism and the way that he has championed the cause of multiculturalism and kept that spirit alive, given the difficult circumstances? But may I also make him aware that the attacks, these difficult times and the bombings that have taken place affect not only the Muslim community, but the wider Asian community and in particular, the Hindu and Sikh communities? In the spirit that he has opened up dialogue with the Muslim community, will he open up the same dialogue with the Hindu and Sikh communities, so that we can work with them in the greater interests of community relations to keep the spirit of multiculturalism alive?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. We will obviously try to do more to ensure that we keep in touch with the Hindu and Sikh communities, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had a meeting with them a short time ago.
Q3.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Prime Minister recall visiting the Queen Elizabeth hospital in King's Lynn during the 2001 election, when he came up to support the then sitting Labour MP? Does he recall saying to my constituents that the Norfolk health economy would be properly funded under Labour? Is he aware that the Norfolk health economy is now £22 million in the red, that the chairman and chief executive of our local hospitalthe Queen Elizabethhave both resigned and that, last week, two wards were closed? What message does he have for those hard-working consultants and staff who are battling on in very difficult circumstances?
The Prime Minister: My message is that I hope that those people and the hon. Gentleman would support the extra funding that is going into the health service in Norfolk and elsewhere. I hope that he points out to his constituents and those in the neighbouring constituency that, if the Conservative party had had its way, that money would never have gone into the national health service. If we read the Healthcare Commission report and see the improvements made, they show the wisdom of investment, not cuts, as the policy.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May I ask the Prime Minister to take the good wishes of this House back to the good people of Sedgefield, who have had the common sense to vote to retain their council housing in-house? Will he have a word in the ear of the Deputy Prime Minister and say that that is another reason why we should support the fourth option for council housing, which is, after all, Labour party policy?
Q4.  Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
(Con): The 3,000 people who crowded into Evesham market
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square for the protest rally on Sunday and the 20,000 who have signed the petition to save the town's hospital would be surprised to learn that, only two years ago, in "Keeping the NHS Local", the Government advocated
Given the substantial extra funding that is going to the South Worcestershire primary care trust, why is it proposed to close wards and sharply reduce services at Evesham community hospital, in direct contradiction of Government policy?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman at least concedes that there has been substantial extra funding. Decision making on the configuration of local services must be a matter for the PCTthat is the procedure with which I think we all agree. I understand that the proposals for Evesham community hospital are at an early stage and I expect that the PCT will take into account all representations, including the hon. Gentleman's, before taking any decisions. However, it is worth highlighting something that he implied, which is that there has been a substantial increase in funding[Hon. Members: "Where is it going?"] I shall say where. The funding is going into the £87 million private finance initiative Worcestershire royal hospital, which is now completed and operational, and into the 1,800 more nurses, 240 more consultants and 140 more doctors. In other words, it is going into improving health care services.
Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary for taking time yesterday and today to meet representatives of the Muslim community. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the announcement made earlier on dealing with people who incite racial and religious hatred in this country. Will he go further and deal with the organisations that must be proscribed to stop them inciting religious hatred?
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has shown immense courage in difficult circumstances. He is right to draw attention to organisations that try to incite hatred or glorify terrorism. That is what the new legislation is, in part, designed to tackle.
Q5.  Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Prime Minister may be aware that the university of Central Lancashire runs one of the most successful programmes for Chinese students: some 600 have already graduated in engineering. However, the 300 students who are to start the academic year in September are facing new and burdensome requirements in applying for their visas. Although it is important to sort out legitimate students from illegitimate ones, will the right hon. Gentleman use his good offices to ensure that students who qualify to come here can do so and that we do not damage that valuable contribution to Sino-British relations?
The Prime Minister:
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of international students, who add £5 billion to the UK economy, and of
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not making procedures over-burdensome, but he knows why we have introduced tougher requirements. We needed to make sure that people who come to this country as students are coming to take bona fide courses at bona fide places and that they will not switch from a student visa and claim asylum as some have done over the years, or do other things. That is why we have had to tighten our procedures. We are trying to strike the right balance and I shall certainly consider the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but it is important that we send a strong signal. Yes, the overwhelming majority of students come here for bona fide reasonsto studybut the system has been open to certain abuses and it is important that we close the opportunities for abuse.
Q6.  Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): The commitment that was made at the G8 to aim for universal access to drugs treatment for HIV by 2010 was enormously important. I am sure that the Prime Minister accepts that we need substantial and sustained increases in aid from developed countries beyond anything that has been agreed so far if we are to have any chance of achieving that aim. With that in mind, what are his objectives for the conference that will be held here in September on the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria? Does he accept that, if that fund is not replenished, that will send a signal that the G8 is not serious about the commitments that it made?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend will understand that part of the purpose of the conference in September is to replenish the funding. It is important that we do that, but I emphasise that it is not only the global fund that will help in tackling AIDS. It is also bilateral relationships, not least those that this country has with African countries that are suffering from AIDS, a huge pandemic that is causing misery across the whole continent and reducing life expectancy. If we secure the commitments that we envisaged at the G8, that will get us as close as possible to universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010, which would be a huge achievement.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The list of conditions exempted from prescription charges was drawn up in the 1960s, as the Prime Minister knows. At that time, cystic fibrosis sufferers mainly died in childhood, so they did not pay prescription charges. Many now live to adulthood. The Prime Minister will recall pledging to deal with this matter before the 1997 election, again in 1999 and again in 2001. Indeed, at the Dispatch Box earlier this year, he once again promised to review the situation. Is he going to honour his pledge, or is he going to let these vulnerable people suffer and pay?
The Prime Minister:
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is true that we keep that under constant review, but it is important to point out[Interruption.] If we change the list for one condition it has implications for other conditions as well. It is true that we keep it under review, but it also true that we give a substantial amount of help to sufferers of cystic fibrosis and other such conditions. While I agree that the hon. Gentleman has a point in relation to prescriptions it would be wrong to imply that we do nothing to help those sufferers, because we do.
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Q7.  Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister agree that there can be no excuse, no rationalisation and no justification for criminals who bomb, maim and murder on buses, in tubes, in offices, in restaurants, in shops and in schools, whether in Beslan, Madrid, London, New York, Tunis or in Tel Aviv, and that the best defence therefore is to stand firm on our resolute democratic values and international co-operation?
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Is the Prime Minister aware of the incidents of violence in Northern Ireland in recent weeks? Is he aware of the atrocious attacks by republicans on the police and attacks by republicans on loyalist areas of north Belfast and Cluan place in my east Belfast constituency? Is he aware of what appears to be a loyalist feud in which there are attacks by loyalists on other loyalists? Will he take it from me that my colleagues and I condemn that completely and without any mental reservation? Is he disappointed that the leadership of Sinn Fein does not condemn the attacks by republicans on loyalists and the police?
The Prime Minister: I completely condemn those attacks, whether they come from republicans or whether they are attacks that loyalists are committing on one another. There is no justification for any of it, and people must realise that if we want to make progress in Northern Ireland the violence, from whatever quarter, has to stop.
Q8.  Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): Now that the summer recess is almost upon us, will my right hon. Friend have time to do what millions of people did this weekend and read the new Harry Potter novel by Scotland's most successful writer? What would he say to people who have been critical of those books, especially as they have done more to improve literacy and children's enjoyment of reading than even this Government's excellent education policies and everything that I did in 19 years as an English teacher?
The Prime Minister: The Harry Potter brief in my file is somewhat thin, which only shows that my officials' sense of importance is not what it should be. I was told by someone, however, that in the first chapter of the new book the Minister of Magic comes out of a picture to confront the Prime Minister. I am still searching for the Minister.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The Prime Minister knows that we can raise individual cases, as well as major international issues. Before 1997, many members of his Administration signed the petition to the Florida supreme court concerning Krishna Maharaj, who has spent nearly 18 years in jail. Will the Prime Minister please consider taking advice and communicating with both President Bush and Governor Bush to see whether it is possible to get the state to stop opposing the application for a new trial, which ought to have been granted in the United States?
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