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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The Government are determined to maximise the opportunities available to Northern Ireland as a result of London's successful bid for the Olympics. We will aim to increase participation and performance in sport, and to leave a legacy for sport, tourism and the economy on the back of London's success.
Jim Dobbin: Will my hon. Friend confirm his intention to encourage the whole of Northern IrelandI stress, the whole of Northern Irelandto take advantage of the opportunities that the 2012 games will offer? Will he describe the steps that he has taken so far to bring that about?
I certainly want to see the whole of Northern Ireland involved in support for the London Olympic games. So far, we have commissioned a report to explore the opportunities for Northern Ireland that will arise from London's successful bid. I want to see some events organised in Northern Ireland, and I want Northern Ireland to bid for training camps to support our athletes and those from other countries. I also want to see volunteers taking part, and to see excellence in competitors and a wider participation in sport, so that medals can come back from the London Olympics to Northern Ireland.
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Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), the Minister for Sport and Tourism, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) stated:
"If Northern Ireland builds its planned national stadium, we will consider incorporating this venue as a location for the Olympic football competition."[Official Report, 24 October 2005; Vol. 438, c. 67W.]
Mr. Hanson: I can certainly reassure the hon. Lady that we want to see events taking place in Northern Ireland as part of the Olympics in 2012. We shall have to look at the economics involved in the stadium that we are planning, and we shall have to get sport buy-in. If the stadium is successful, and I very much hope it will be, I hope that we shall be able to attract sports from the Olympic games to participate there. We will do all that we can to ensure that we achieve that aim.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The most recently published information is set out in the seventh Independent Monitoring Commission report, which shows that shootings and assaults by paramilitaries are at a historic low. Even that low rate remains unacceptable, however, and the Government condemn all such attacks unreservedly.
Mr. Wallace: The Secretary of State will know that it is extremely hard to carry out a kneecapping without the use of a handgun. Does he agree that any punishment beatings or kneecappings related to the IRA that have happened since July will directly contradict General de Chastelain's report of July, and that Sinn Fein-IRA will therefore have proved that they have not decommissioned or put out of use all their weapons?
Mr. Hain: As the IMC report published last week made clear, the initial signs following the Provisional IRA's statement are encouraging in respect of all its activity, with a notable and sharp decline in all the activity to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I have been asked to reply. As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Strasbourg today addressing the European Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is currently visiting Slovenia, Cyprus and Croatia, meeting Heads of Government as part of our presidency of the European Union.
Mr. Lancaster: I have campaigned long and hard for i before einfrastructure before expansionfor Milton Keynes, a campaign which I am sure the Leader of the House supports. Assuming that he does, can he explain to my constituents why, over the past four years, this Government have taken £500 million via English Partnerships out of Milton Keynes and put just £200 million into Milton Keynesa net deficit of £300 million? Does he wonder why my city's infrastructure is crumbling, or do we need a new rule: i before e, except after B, Brown?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman agrees entirely with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who has made it absolutely clear that it is important to get infrastructure right before we allow the expansion of our towns and citiesa lesson that we learned from the failures of the Conservative Government, who allowed unlimited expansion of those towns and cities without any regard for infrastructure.
Q2.  Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Given the number of computer scientists, biotechnologists and MBA graduates, and the quality of those students coming out of China and India, what assessments have we made of their systems and of whether we should implement any of their institutions here?
Mr. Hoon: Let me make it clear to my hon. Friend that we are extremely proud of our universities and higher education and the contribution that they make to our economy. Graduates from our universities are respected for their qualifications right around the world, and many students come to this country from India and China: in 200304, 41,550 came from China and 12,660 from India. We recognise the value that both those countries place on our education and, increasingly, our higher education. United Kingdom universities and colleges are working in both those countries, and I might mention the excellent example of Nottingham university, which has a campus in both China and Malaysia.
What is important is that we continue to value the efforts that teachers and head teachers make in this country to protect the interests and education of the overwhelming majority of our children. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we are concerned with the majority, not simply with a privileged few.
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Chris Grayling: Well, there's a surprise: the Leader of the House did not answer the question. Let me help him. Earned autonomy was a flagship policy which the Prime Minister promised would increase school freedomand what was the result? Since its introduction, not a single school has been granted earned autonomy.
Mr. Hoon: Again, the answer is clear. Since 1997 the Government have sought to reverse the disastrous education policies of our predecessors. Time and again we have invested in our schools, and provided extra teachers and support staff. That contrasts starkly with the way in which the Conservative Government ran down education.
Chris Grayling: Let me help the Leader of the House again. The Prime Minister promised that good schools would be given the money with which to expand. So far, only seven out of 21,000 schools have received that money. This week we have seen another set of promises on school reform from the Prime Minister, delivered in the teeth of opposition from the Cabinet. Why on earth should anyone believe that they will be delivered this time?
Ministers have fallen out on education, and they have fallen out on smoking. Is it not the case that we have a Cabinet in disarray, and a Prime Minister who has lost the authority to lead the Cabinet?
Mr. Hoon: I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills put the Government's position extremely well yesterday.[Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members are scoffing at the vital issue of education for our children. This is what the Secretary of State saidOpposition Members should listen to it, and take note:
"Every child matters, and children have only one chance of a good school education. Our ambition is for every child to get that chance and to develop their talents".[Official Report, 25 October 2005; Vol. 438, c.169.)
While Labour is committed to improving every child's opportunity, it is clear from the observations of the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), and indeed from every contribution from Conservative Members, that Conservative Members are concerned only about protecting the rights of the privileged few.
Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
(Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing regret for the loss of life that resulted from the tragic events in my constituency at the weekend? Will he join me in paying tribute to the emergency services, particularly the police, one of whom was shot? Luckily he survived, and is recovering in hospital. Will my right hon. Friend also pay tribute to all the members of the community who have not been easily taken in by a small criminal element who want to divide the community, but have not succeeded? Will he ensure that those people are supported, so that our communities in Birmingham, including those in my constituency, stay together? What those communities need is unity and consistency.
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Mr. Hoon: I join my hon. Friend in expressing my condolences to the families who have suffered bereavements. I also pay tribute to the police and to those in the community, including my hon. Friend, who are working to resolve a difficult situation.
We condemn the violence that took place at the weekend. Violent behaviour can never be seen as a legitimate form of protest. We welcome the positive way in which the police have worked with community representatives, and the positive statements made by representatives of all communities over the weekend.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is now three months since the horrific attacks on the London underground. What practical action has been taken to make the British transport system safer?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport have been working closely together to ensure that the already high standards of protection for people using public transport have been properly reviewed and considered, and that steps have been taken to ensure, as best we can, that there can be no repetition of that terrible disaster.
Does the Leader of the House not realise that it is not possible to fight terrorism by simply introducing ever more draconian legislation? Is it not time we gave our police and security forces the extra resources and manpower that they need, and a properly constituted national border force? Would that not be rather better than wasting millions of pounds on an identity card scheme that will not stop a single terrorist?
Mr. Hoon: It might be rather better if, for a change, the Liberal Democrats lived in the real world and listened to the police, instead of commenting on leaked documents. The police have made it clear what they require: they would like to have a three-month period in which they can hold suspected terrorists before charge. The Liberal Democrats oppose that. The police have made it clear that they need a range of provisions in a new Terrorism Bill that would allow them to do their job properly and protect the people of this country. As I understand it, the Liberal Democrats oppose that as well. The hon. Gentleman should go back to his constituents and ask them what they think about the efforts that we need to make to protect this country from terrorism.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South)
(Lab): One in five men of working age in the city that we both represent, Mr. Speaker, is claiming incapacity benefitan unsustainable position for the long-term prosperity of individuals, families and Glasgow itself. Does my right hon. Friend accept that more radical measures than have previously been tried now need to be implemented if we are to move significant numbers of incapacity benefit claimants off benefit and into work?
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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking urgently at reforming our welfare system to ensure that those who deserve assistance receive it, and that those currently in receipt of incapacity benefit have opportunities and pathways back into work. That is central to the Government's determination to improve the level of welfare support, and to ensure that people have employment opportunities.
Q3.  Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): The Leader of the House twice said earlier that the Government are concerned with the majority and not with the privileged few, so will they make it their policy to ensure that future test matches involving England are available on free-to-air TV channels, and not just to the privileged few who can afford pay-per-view?
Mr. Hoon: Curiously, the hon. Gentleman would normally argue that such matters are not for the Government but for others to resolve. Of course, that is the position so far as this matter is concerned, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has made it clear that it is subject to review, and that we will look at it again in the future.
Q4.  Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): On 10 November last year, the mother of the murdered Leicester schoolchild Stephan Pakheera told the Prime Minister that she believed that her son's killer was influenced by the video game "Manhunt". Last week in Sheffield, a young schoolgirl, Shani Naylor, was seriously injured by bullies, and 31,000 children complained to ChildLine about bullying last year. Does the Leader of the House share my concern at the decision of Rockstar Games to publish a new game called "Bully", in which players use their on-screen persona to kick and punch other schoolchildren? Will he ask the Prime Minister to refer this video game to the British Board of Film Classification, and if it does not make any changes, will the Government use their powers to ban this video game?
Mr. Hoon: First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his excellent work in this difficult and sensitive area. We have certainly been working very closely with the video games industry to ensure that young people have access only to games that contain material appropriate for them, and that parents have information on what material a game contains. I understand that my hon. Friend has met the Minister with responsibility for creative industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), and that he will shortly be discussing this particular case with the Department for Education and Skills. It is important to remember, however, that the distributors have yet to put this game to the BBFC for consideration of an appropriate rating, so the precise nature of its contentdisturbing though it soundsand the degree to which it might be considered harmful to children is not yet fully known.
Mr. Hoon: I find remarkable the hon. Gentleman's coming to the Dispatch Box and saying that, given the disastrous period of Conservative Government when, frankly, energy was not a priority. They ran down the British coal industry without any regard whatsoever to alternatives. This Government plan and prepare, and we will plan and prepare for this winter.
Q5.  Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): This week has seen a successful visit of 11 Tibetan MPs in exile. In a fortnight's time, Premier Hu Jintau of ChinaPremier Hu rather than premier Hoonpays a visit. Will my right hon. Friend put pressure on the premier for more high-level talksperhaps even talks between Premier Hu and the Dalai Lamato try to resolve the present injustice to Tibetans?
Mr. Hoon: I can assure my hon. Friend that I am very happy with my daytime job. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will certainly discuss a wide range of issues with President Hu during the forthcoming state visit. The Prime Minister regularly raises human rights issues, including Tibet, when he meets Chinese leaders. The Government have encouraged the Chinese Government to continue their contact with the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama's representatives, in order to seek a lasting solution to the problem. We have told both sides that a meaningful dialogue is the best way to achieve a peaceful, sustainable and legitimate solution to the issue.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)
(Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that secrecy surrounding the Children Act 2004 is having a corrosive effect on justice and on social services departments? Surely it is possible to retain the anonymity of the child without the appalling restrictions on parents facing forced adoptions. They often face a greater degree of control than someone facing a criminal charge. In particular, they are unable to tell their employers why they are taking so much time off work, which places
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parents with learning difficulties at a peculiar disadvantage. Will the right hon. Gentleman look towards opening up the decisions of the courts and, following the suggestion of the Select Committee, find ways of making the operations of the Children Act much more open?
Mr. Hoon: Many years ago, I worked on cases of this sort and I appreciate the sensitivity of the matters involved and the way in which the hon. Gentleman has raised this important issue. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellorand, indeed, the Department for Constitutional Affairsis looking at ways of opening up the process without in any way jeopardising the interests of those involved. It is a delicate and sensitive issue. I am aware of efforts to open up the process in the United States, which have been broadly welcomed by the parties concerned, and I know that the Lord Chancellor is studying what happens there very carefully.
Q6.  Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend believe that action is long overdue in relation to the mass of advertising hoardings that now line our motorways? They despoil the landscape and distract drivers. Frankly, from the advertisers' point of view, if they do not distract, they do not work.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises an important issue and the Government take the matter very seriously indeed. I want to make it clear that the display of advertising hoardings alongside motorways and trunk roads without the consent of the local planning authority is a criminal offence and that local authorities have powers to bring prosecutions in such cases. Indeed, in June this year, we wrote to all local authorities to remind them of their powers and to urge them to take action to get the adverts removed. Moreover, we will consult on new control of advertisement regulations before the end of the year.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Will the Minister explain the reasoning behind the inflation-busting 19 per cent. increase in the regional rate announced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland yesterday? That increase will have a devastating effect on lower and middle-income families and pensioners.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman has just had the opportunity of raising that matter with Northern Ireland Ministers. I am certainly aware of extra investment in health and education across Northern Ireland. Obviously, such extra help requires paying for, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland takes these issues into account in making his difficult judgments.
Q7.  Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East)
(Lab): In the light of yesterday's education White Paper, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the city academy in my constituency on its excellent set of GCSE results, which make it the most improved school in Bristol? Will he guarantee that all city academies and other types of school proposed in the White Paper will be required to operate a fair admissions policy?
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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The city academy in Bristol has helped to create a step change in educational achievement, with the proportion of students gaining five GCSEs at grades A to C rising from 33 per cent. in 2004 to more than 50 per cent. this year. However, I assure her that all schools are required to have regard to the statutory code of practice on admissions. Where complaints are made, the school adjudicator is charged with ensuring that admissions policies are in line with the code. That will continue to be the position under the proposals announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. She made that absolutely clear, and I repeat it today.
Q8.  Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Jamie Oliver has led the crusade for healthy food in our schools, but one does not have to look too far to see that schools are not the only place where obesity is a problem. Does the Leader of the House think that we should practise what we preach and encourage Members of Parliament to take more exercise and eat more sensibly?
Mr. Hoon: I have not seen the hon. Gentleman in the House of Commons gym at 7.15 am, but I look forward to doing so the next time I am there. Quite a few of my Front-Bench colleagues use that gym: we set a very good example and do not just talk about staying fit. Incidentally, Jamie Oliver has paid tribute to the Government for their efforts to promote better food in schools.
Q9.  Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the enormous debt carried by the Surrey and Sussex health care trust, which may threaten patient care in my constituency. What would he say to those hard-working campaigners trying to get facilities back in Crawley, given that they are dealing with a trust that has so much debt around its shoulders?
Mr. Hoon: As I have made absolutely clear when the question has been raised with me before, an enormous amount of extra spending is going into the national health service. It is vital that local authorities responsible for administering that extra money get their finances in order before any further and extra investment can be considered. However, I understand that a new management team is in place in the trust in my hon. Friend's constituency. A new capital programme worth £19 million has been established to improve services in her area, in addition to the 6.7 per cent. funding increase going to the primary care trust. Ultimately, although a solution has to be found locally, it is clear that the Government will help where they can to improve the financial position of PCTs.
Q10.  Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
(Con): In June, the Prime Minister promised to toughen the law in respect of death caused by careless driving, and to bring forward proposals "shortly". It is now nearly the end of October. When will the proposals be published?
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Mr. Hoon: I do not know the answer to that question, but I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman. This is an important and difficult issue, and we must get it right.
Q11.  Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): I have been invited to carry out Friday's topping-out ceremony for the £30 million refurbishment of Wigan and Leigh college, which provides excellent services and facilities for students in the Wigan area. However, it is one of the least well-funded colleges, and that causes particular difficulties. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that the Learning and Skills Council's agenda for change addresses that problem and distributes funding more equitably throughout the tertiary sector?
Mr. Hoon: I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming that significant capital project at Wigan and Leigh college. Half of that funding has been provided by the LSC and half by the college. That represents a larger contribution from the LSC than usual. In the coming weeks, my hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning will announce the Government's strategic direction for the learning and skills sector, including the funding package for the next two years. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital to ensure fair funding for our education servicesomething else that the Conservatives failed to provide in their period in government. We have ensured fair funding for schools and colleges, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has committed us to that.
Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): North Kingston is part of my constituency, and people who live there have long wanted a local, non-selective secondary school in their community. They have been denied by Treasury rules, because there are surplus places in schools an hour away. After yesterday's announcement and White Paper, they have been calling me because they are completely confused. May they have their school, and will the Treasury supply the money?
Mr. Hoon: As I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), that is why it is important to ensure both fair admissions and fair funding. We need the consistent approach that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has set out. We must ensure that parents have both the choice and the opportunity to send their children to the schools that they want. That has not always worked perfectly in the past, but we are going to address that issue because we want to ensure that the high standards that we have achieved since 1997 go on rising. That is our ambition, and I urge the hon. Lady to join us in it.
Q12.  Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
(Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act of 1978which perhaps was not Labour's finest year for keeping the streets cleanhas now been replaced by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, providing local authorities with the opportunity to get landowners
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to clear up their act or risk being fined? What level of scrutiny will the Government maintain to ensure that local authorities use those powers? People are fed up with looking at the eyesore of rubbish in their neighbourhood.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure not only that we pass legislation such as the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act as part of our wider drive to establish respect for our communities, but that local authorities use that legislation to deliver. Certainly, under the Act local authorities will have greater powers to tackle the fly-tipping that is costing them more than £44 million a year to clear up. Landowners and occupiers who have had their chance to clear away fly-tipped waste will now be able to recover their clearance costs, but we do need to ensure that local authorities use the legislation, put it into effect and deliver.
Q13.  Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): As the guardian of the rights of Members of this House, will the Leader of the House support an initiative, which has the backing of Members on both sides of the House, for an independent body to report every year to Parliament on carbon emissions?
Mr. Hoon: I have certainly seen the proposals in relation to carbon emissions and I have seen the way in which they could have an impact as far as the House authorities are concerned. It is something that I anticipate will be taken up when the House looks at these issues, and we take it very seriously, not only in relation to our responsibilities in Parliament, but obviously as part of our wider duty to the country.
Q14.  Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government's intention to implement in full as soon as possible the manifesto commitments contained in what is known as the Warwick agreement?
Mr. Hoon: The Warwick agreement has carried through a number of initiatives that we have worked on in partnership with trade unions, but may I emphasise to my hon. Friend that the Warwick agreement is a two-sided process? It is important that both parties carry it through.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House explain how it is that, after the boast of 100 days to save the NHS and the Prime Minister coming here week in, week out and boasting about the amount of additional money going to the NHS, in my constituency of Welwyn Hatfield it was announced this week that the QEII hospital is going to all but close? How does he square that circle?
Very straightforwardly. I would compare the record of the Conservative Government whom he supported with what we have actually achieved in government. We have ensured that our hospitals are properly funded: 79,000 more nurses since 1997; 27,000 more doctors; 85 new hospital-building programmes in progress; more than 530,000 extra operations every single year; and waiting levels at their
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lowest since 1987. How can the hon. Member come to the House and possibly complain about the extra funding and the excellence in our health service compared with the appalling mess that we inherited in 1997?
Q15.  Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): The Prime Minister has said that Labour is at its best when at its boldest. May I urge the Leader of the House to encourage his Cabinet colleagues to be bold, to follow Scotland's example, to stub out cigarettes and to ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces?
I have seen no suggestion at all that my right hon. Friends are not bold when it comes to these issues. They have certainly been discussing this matter at great length and in great detail, because of course this is an important issue that affects everyone in the country, and it is important that we get the right balance between the needs of those who want to continue to smoke, as
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they are entitled to do in private, and the needs of the community, who clearly do not want to be affected by other people's harmful smoke. That is the balance that we are seeking to strike and I assure the House that as soon as we have struck that balance we shall inform the House accordingly.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): If the Government are serious about supplying the nation's energy needs and combating climate change, why do they not give a higher priority to nuclear energy?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in his speech to the Labour party conference the importance that we attach to ensuring, as I made clear in the answer that I gave earlier, that the United Kingdom has sufficient energy provision, in the short and longer term, to meet the requirements of its businesses and its people. That remains our absolute priority.
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