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Albert Owen: I understand that discussions on the important detail of badge insignia are ongoing and very positive. A wide range of people have been involved in the decisions. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any future reorganisation or reconfiguration of Welsh regiments involves an input from Welsh Members of Parliament before the Army Board makes its recommendations, so that the expression of a wide range of opinions can prevent a repetition of the debacle over names?
Mr. Hain: I shall be happy to take up the matter. I understand that individual regiments have been involved in determining dress regulations for the new regiments. As my hon. Friend says, the discussions are ongoing and I cannot comment further, but his point is valid. I am sure that he will join me in congratulating all the Welsh soldiers who are serving abroad and doing a first-class job.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Why did the Secretary of State not help? The Welsh Assembly refused to support Ty Gwyn, a unique post-traumatic stress disorder unit for veterans, which needed £75,000 to continue its important work. There is a waiting list of ex-servicemen who need to use Ty Gwyn. Why is it that the Welsh Assembly can buy a 32-acre rainforest site in Ecuador, but cannot support a nursing home for ex-servicemen in Wales?
9. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What discussions he has had with the National Assembly for Wales Minister for Health on the rate paid by the Assembly to English hospitals for the treatment of patients in Wales. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular discussions with the Assembly's Minister for Health on a range of matters, including the provision of services in cross-border areas.
The Royal Shrewsbury hospital loses £2 million a year by treating Welsh patients who come across the border. The Welsh health authority in Powys pays a different rate per person from that paid by Welsh authorities. How can the Secretary of State reassure me that the Royal Shrewsbury will not continue to lose £2 million a year because of that anomaly?
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Nick Ainger: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are serious problems affecting the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. I have seen the report on its financial performance and I do not recognise the figure of a £2 million loss per year. I understand, however, that this issue has been discussed and an agreement reached on the new contractual arrangements for this year and next. There appears to be no further problem in this regard.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about matters affecting Wales. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which received Royal Assent in April, contains a range of measures to improve the quality of the local environment.
Mrs. Moon: Fly-tipping is a major problem in my constituencyso much so that Afon-y-felin primary school had to join forces with the local Assembly Member, councillors and even the First Minister to help clear up an estate. What powers can be given to local authorities under this new proposal to help them to tackle fly-tipping, rather than requiring children in local communities to tackle it?
Nick Ainger: I congratulate my hon. Friend's school, which is actively involved in addressing an issue that is clearly of great importance to everyone. Figures show that a fly-tipping incident occurs in the UK every 35 seconds. Last year in Wales, there were more than 30,000 such incidents, which cost in excess of £1.6 million to clear up. Since June, fly-tipping has become an arrestable offence. The most serious cases can now attract a fine of £50,000 or five years imprisonment. The 2005 Act clearly has the teeth to tackle this problem.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair):
Before listing my engagements, the House will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has resigned. Whatever mistakes he has made, I have always believed, and believe now, that he is a decent and honourable man who has contributed a great deal to his country, and who has overcome immense
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challenges that, frankly, would have daunted the rest of us. He can be proud of his record in British public life. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
I also know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family of the British soldier killed in Afghanistan at the weekend. He was doing a vital and important job, and his country can be very proud of him.
Mr. Purchase: I echo and sympathise with the views expressed by my right hon. Friend. Will he accept that he speaks for all when he condemns the appalling, dreadful and truly disgraceful statement of the Iranian President, who expressed his wish that Israel be wiped off the map? Will my right hon. Friend also accept that his further remarks at Hampton court over the weekend carried an implicit threat of military action against Iran? Does he share my view that the people of this country are in no mood for a military adventure in Iran, and if he does, will he explain his remarks at Hampton court?
The Prime Minister: I am very happy to say that, first, I did not talk either explicitly or implicitly about a military threat to Iran, but what I did say was this. Iran has to realise that the international community cannot tolerate continuing conduct that, frankly, is supporting terrorism around the world; that is supporting terrorism not just in the middle east, but elsewhere; and that is in breach of its nuclear weapons responsibilities and obligations under the International Atomic Energy Agency. I did want to make it clear, and I do so again now, that the statements by the Iranian President in respect of Israel are completely and totally unacceptable. Obviously, as I made clear at the press conference, we want to discuss this with other allies and with other members of the Security Council. Nobody is talking about military threats, invasion of Iran or any of the rest of it. What we are saying, however, is that the Iranian Government have got to understand that the international community simply will not put up with their continued breach of the proper and normal standards of behaviour that we expect from a member of the United Nations. The most important thing at the moment is that that is a unified message, and that it goes out not just from this House and this country, but right across the world.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in expressing our sympathy and condolences to the family of the British serviceman who lost his life in Afghanistan over the weekend.
This has been an extraordinary week for the Government, and for the Prime Minister. We have seen the slow seepage of his authority turn into a haemorrhage. We all acknowledge the honourable way in which the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has decided to resign, and I pay tribute to him for thatbut the key question now is for the Prime Minister. Does he think that in his handling of this affair, his judgment has been at fault in any way?
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The Prime Minister: Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman exactly why I did not believe that the allegations against my right hon. Friend warranted his dismissal. Perhaps, with the frenzy that is going on around this, it is just as well for the House and for members of the public that I should explain why not.
Basically, there were three sets of allegations[Interruption.] Perhaps I could be allowed to detail the reasons why I decided not to dismiss my right hon. Friend. There were three sets of allegations. One was that he had not sought the advice of the independent advisory committee, which he should have done. That is a breach of the ministerial code, it is true, but I did not believe that it warranted dismissal, for these reasons. First, I could discover no impropriety or wrongdoing in his doing that. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Secondly, he had registered those jobs with the Register of Members' Interests. It arose out of a misunderstanding in the correspondence, which I have looked at myself and believed was an honest misunderstanding on his part. It was clear to me that even had he been in touch with the advisory committee, as he accepts he should have been, the most that would have happened is that his taking up one of those jobs would have been delayed by a few weeks. In those circumstances, I did not believe that that warranted his dismissal.
The second set of allegations was in respect of the register of shareholdings in DNA Bioscience. My right hon. Friend was supposed to follow a particular procedure for Ministers when they come into Government. He followed that procedure completely. Therefore I could find no breach of the ministerial code in respect of that.
The third and most serious set of allegations, which were made by the shadow Leader of the House, was that my right hon. Friend, while a member of the Government, had had discussions and made representations on behalf of a firm that either had or was trying to get a contract from the Department for Work and Pensions. Had that allegation been true, it certainly would have been a dismissible offence. I looked into that allegation and found it to be completely untrue. Therefore it would not have been right, in these circumstances, for him to resign. That is why I did not dismiss my right hon. Friend under the ministerial code.
Mr. Howard: The Secretary of State has resigned, and I do not intend to pursue those matters this afternoon. I quite understand why the Prime Minister's judgment in these last few days has been awry. I can entirely sympathise with his desire to cling on to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Is it not a fact that he was one of the Prime Minister's last remaining allies in Cabinet?
The Prime Minister:
My right hon. Friend resigned for the reasons that he gave: with the frenzy surrounding him and his job, it became impossible for him to carry on doing that job properly. The reason why I outlined the specific allegations about him is that I think that in fairness to him, people should understand that a lot of what has been written about him in the past few days has, on my investigation of the facts, turned out to be completely untrue. However, for the reasons that he has given, he has resigned.
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I would simply put this to the House: sometimes on these occasions, the degree of pressure to which people are subject is absolutely extraordinary. We should just occasionally reflect on that, and when it involves somebody who has done an immense amount for this country we should say, as he goes from Government, that he goes, in my view, with no stain of impropriety against him whatever.
Mr. Howard: If the Prime Minister had recalled some of the words that he used in opposition, he might have found it difficult to repeat the words that he has just uttered today. He did not answer the question that I put to him, and I shall resist the temptation to ask him to name his remaining allies in the Cabinet. The truth is that the Prime Minister has lost both his allies and his authority. Let us look at some examples of that.
Last week, the Education Secretary was squabbling with the Deputy Prime Minister about school reforms, and the Health Secretary and the Culture Secretary were at loggerheads with the Defence Secretary over the ban on smoking. This week, the Prime Minister is at odds with everyone else over his proposal to ban drinking on public transportat the very moment when he is introducing 24-hour drinking in our pubs. What has happened to his authority?
The Prime Minister: I shall deal with each of those claims in turn. On schools, we are in favour not just of investing in them but of reforming them too. We have a programme that we will carry through, because this party believes in improving the quality of schooling in our country. We will do that, and we will carry it through.
On the so-called proposal to ban drinking on public transport, I had indicated already that we should not accept it. However, as often happens when such a proposal is put in the newspapers and we point out that it has not been accepted, we are accused of making a U-turn.
Leaving that to one side, I can tell the House that over the next few months we will carry through our programme on schools and health service reform, and that new proposals will be brought forward on antisocial behaviour and crime. Today, of course, we have a very important debate on terrorism. All those proposals will be carried through, because we believe in them and because we believe that they are right for the countryand at least we have a programme that we are carrying through.
Mr. Howard: Does the Prime Minister really not see that this week marks the beginning of the final chapter of his Administration? Will he be the last person to recognise that the departure of his key ally means that there is no longer any doubt that the sole source of authority in his Cabinet is the Chancellor of the Exchequer? For how long will this country have to put up with this lame duck Prime Minister, in office but not in power?
The Prime Minister:
We shall see, over the next few months, exactly what happensin respect of the programme that has delivered the strongest economy that this country has had for years, of the programme
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that has delivered the best primary school, GCSE and A-level results, of the programme that is delivering the biggest falls in NHS waiting times that this country has had for 20 years, and of the programme that is allowing us to increase the numbers of police and ensure that crime falls.
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): By the end of the year, the Government look set to reduce NHS waiting times to no more than six months. However, is my right hon. Friend aware of the work of John Petri, an orthopaedic surgeon in the James Paget hospital in my constituency? He has no waiting lists at all since he introduced a dual system of operating, using two theatres and two teams, which means that he does not have to wait for the next patient. Is not that an example to be followed and commended? Will my right hon. Friend meet John Petri to discuss how that innovation can benefit the whole of the NHS?
The Prime Minister: I shall be very happy to do so. In terms of policy, the picture that my hon. Friend presents is replicated around the country. When the Labour party came to power, many people were waiting more than 18 months for operations, and tens of thousands were waiting for more than a year. From December, the maximum wait will be of six months, and that has brought the waiting list down very sharply. As my hon. Friend said, there are now parts of the country in which we are getting rid of waiting almost completely. In the next three yearsby 2008patients will have a maximum wait of 18 weeks between the door of the GP and the door of the operating theatre. That will effectively get rid of the NHS waiting lists that we inherited after the years when the Conservative party was in government. Frankly, when all the rest is said and done, that is what matters to the people of this country.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I wish to share the sentiments so properly expressed by the Prime Minister about the loss of life of the British serviceman in Afghanistan in the past few days.
On the issue of the day and what the Prime Minister has said about the ministerial code of conduct, does he agree that it seems absurd that an ex-Minister is obliged to seek advice, but is not obliged to take that advice? As a result of this experience, will the Prime and the Cabinet Secretary urgently address that issue?
The Prime Minister: It is clear now, if it was not before, that when Ministers leave office, they are expected to take the advice of the independent advisory committee. Obviously that has to be made clear, although I would say that it is fairly clear now.
It was well reported recently that the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Prime Minister disagreed about incapacity benefit reform. May we have
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an assurance that the No. 10 machine will not seek to impose its will as to the reform of incapacity benefit on whoever occupies that office later today? That is what people out there actually care about.
The Prime Minister: Again, when we get back to policy, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Liberal Democrats now oppose every single reform in the public services or on welfare. It is absurd to say that incapacity benefit, which now costs £13 billion a year and leaves 3 million people economically inactive, does not need reform. It does need reform and this side has the courage to do it. As ever, when it comes to a policy decision, the Liberal Democrats lack that courage.
Q2.  Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in congratulating schools in my constituency on the genuine increase in standards that they have achieved since 1997? [Hon. Members: "Urgh!"] They are too eager. However, does my right hon. Friend recognise that before 1997 we spent years fighting the Tories' policy of offering unfair financial inducements to schools to opt out of local authority control? Will he give the House an assurance, therefore, that in any future education reforms the Government will not offer, directly or indirectly, any unfair financial incentives to schools to opt out of local authority provision, nor to any outside organisations such as private companies or trusts
The Prime Minister: I assure my hon. Friend that there will be fair funding for schools and no return to unfair funding. In particularand this is the major point of difference with usthe Conservatives have said that they want a free-for-all on admissions. I emphatically disagree with that. We should not have a return to selection at age 11. That would do damage to the children of this country and their future prospects. However, we will empower schools to become self-governing trusts if they wish to do so and enable them to have outside partners. We have already done that in respect of specialist schools and city academies, which has been highly successful, but we need now to take it to a new level. Alongside the investment will come reform, but it will be reform designed for equity and fairness and not a return to the unfair policies of the Conservatives.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Since new Labour came to power in 1997, the Government have created 700 new criminal offences. Will the Prime Minister help the House by putting a monthly aide-memoire in the Library, so that we know how many offences have been created each month? That is urgent, bearing in mind the exotic jurisprudence in the current Terrorism Bill.
The Prime Minister:
I will tell the hon. Gentleman exactly why we are legislating on antisocial behaviour. It is because we believeat least, on this side of the Housethat it is a crucial issue for people and that they want protection in their local communities. The fact that
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he and his party oppose the measures says a lot more about them than it does about us, when we are trying to help people who are fed up with hooligans making their lives hell in their local communities, drug dealers living in their streets and people being drunk and disorderly, with the police able to do little about it. We will continue legislating on those issues because it is the right thing to do to protect people in this country.
As for terrorism, each Member of this House will have to take a decision on the Terrorism Bill later today[Interruption.] Let me say this to Conservative Members, because we need to be very clear about why we are legislating to strengthen anti-terrorist laws in this country: we are doing it because the police and the head of anti-terrorist operations say that they need the powers to protect British citizens. Of all the things that we should debate today, that is what is important to people's lives. We will do our best to protect the people of this country. Hon. Members should think carefully before they vote against the express desire of the chief of the Metropolitan police, the head of anti-terrorist operations and the people who are charged with protecting our country.
Q3.  Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Will people who kill while driving carelessly now go to prison rather than face a paltry fine? Following some tragic accident fatalities in my area, can the Prime Minister assure me that the Road Safety Bill will force the courts, at long last, to take those devastating and avoidable deaths on our roads seriously?
The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend has been leading the campaign on this issue with great distinction. It is worth pointing out that last year more than 13,000 fewer people were killed or seriously injured on our roads than the average number in the period 1994 to 1998, so it is obvious that strengthening the law has led to gains being made. Following public consultation earlier this year, new measures are being introduced to strengthen the framework of offences to deal with bad driving and to help to create safer roads for everyone. We shall try to introduce those measures through amendments to the Road Safety Bill. I entirely understand my hon. Friend's question: if such a massive effect were being felt in any other area of public life, people would take account of it when making decisions. That is why it is important that we get the amendments right. I am sure that we will.
The Prime Minister:
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would rejoice if I had managed to failit would be a feather in my cap. We have not yet completed the European presidency: it lasts for six months and we are at month four. After the December summit, we might be able to judge the success of our presidency. One thing of which I am very proud is that we managed to open accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia. Contrary to his viewsthat the EU is a
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waste of time and we should not have such a thingthe fact that so many countries want to join the EU shows what a strong institution it is, despite all its difficulties.
Q5.  Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab): Despite the tough new regulations in the Fireworks Act 2003, I am continuing to receive numerous complaints about the misuse of fireworks. At the weekend there was an horrific incident in which a Yorkshire terrier was killed when a firework was tied to its leg and ignited. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time to consider an outright ban on the sale of fireworks to the general public?
The Prime Minister: The most important thing is that we have introduced new legislation and created three new offences. We have to wait and see what happens before we can make a judgment on the legislation. However, I think that to ban the sale of fireworks altogether would be a step too far.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): There continues to be widespread concern about the plight of the less well-off and most vulnerable in our society.[Interruption.] When there are millions[Interruption.] When there are thousands of people worried about the clawback of money because of the failure of the tax and benefits system, does the Prime Minister believe in accountability, and if so, whom does he hold responsible and when will he hold them responsible?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is correct that there are of course difficulties, as there are with the payment of any benefit, but let us be clear about this. As a result of the tax credits, literally millions of families in this country have an improvement in their standard of living. Pensioners have been lifted out of poverty as a result of pension credit[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: We have over the past eight years lifted 700,000 children out of poverty, and 2 million pensioners out of acute hardship. That has partly been done as a result of the payment of tax credits. So the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must of course do more to help the poor and disadvantaged in our country, but I point out to him that when his Government were in power they froze[Interruption.] They do not like to be reminded of what they did in government.
The Prime Minister:
That is right, eight yearsand in eight years we have lifted 2 million pensioners out of acute hardship, and who put them there? In those eight years, while we have been lifting those people out of poverty, every single measure has been opposed by his party. So I agree that we need to do more for the poor and disadvantaged, but the only way they will get more is to keep this Government in office.
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Q6.  Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Salford is the 12th most deprived local authority area in the country. In the past, deprivation in our area has been reflected in the level of GCSE and other test results. This year, Salford achieved an 8 per cent. increase in our GCSE results and a 5 per cent. increase in key stage 3 English. Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister satisfied with those results, and can he tell me how they can be continued?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is of course right: not merely has the Cambridge assessment confirmed the improvement in teaching, but it comes on top of the Ofsted report that confirmed exactly the same. The truth is that teaching is getting better, the results are getting better, and the reason is that this Government have invested in education and changed the education system. So whereas when we came to office just over half of 11-year-olds were getting the right literacy and numeracy results, now the figure is three quarters. That, again, is the difference between a Labour Government who care about education and a Conservative Government who in the years before we came to power cut funding per pupil.
Q7.  Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): According to the Children's Society, every year 100,000 children run away from home. Many turn to rough sleeping, crime, drug taking, alcohol abuse and prostitution. Many are hurt and harmed as a consequence. At the moment, there are just seven refuge beds across the country to meet that massive need. Those beds will not be funded after March next year; Government funding is to stop before that is evaluated. Will the Prime Minister look to stop the cut in funding in March so that the beds can be properly evaluated and we can have a proper network of safe accommodation for children who run away?
The Prime Minister: We have of course invested a large sum of money in that. The rough sleepers initiative has cut the numbers sleeping rough very considerably. We will continue to invest; we have obviously got to make sure that it is in the right way that yields the result. The hon. Gentleman is right in drawing attention to the problem, but we will solve it only by continuing the policies that we have set out. I am not aware of the particular issue that he has raisedI will get back to him on the detailbut more money has been invested in social housing and in providing for people, particularly young people who might run away from home, than by any Government for years, and we will continue doing that.
Q8.  Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
(Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that more than six months have passed since the collapse of MG Rover in my constituency. May I ask him to do two things? First, will he recognise the contribution that the taskforce set up by the Government has made towards helping the region and beyond to tackle the effects of that closure; and, secondly, will he recognise that there is still a large number of people who are without jobs, mainly concentrated in the area around the plant, and that they still face real problems? Does he agree that the south-west Birmingham area needs a
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major regeneration programme not only to help MG Rover workers still without jobs to get back to work, but to regenerate the entire community?
The Prime Minister: First, I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done for his constituents through the MG Rover TaskForce. I congratulate the members of that taskforce, because Advantage West Midlands, Birmingham city council, the Learning and Skills Council and Jobcentre Plus have pulled together in a remarkable way to achieve the result that he described. I am pleased that 3,000 or more ex-MG Rover and supply chain workers are now in new jobs, but we need to do much more. We will invest in the new science and technology park, but we will also make sure that the programme of support that we introduced for those workers when they were made redundant continues. We will also make sure that we put the investment into Advantage West Midlands to allow it to attract new jobs for the future.
Q9.  Paul Rowen (Rochdale)
(LD): Prime Minister, you visited Rochdale on 21 April, and you gave your personal commitment to the Manchester Metrolink, including the three lines to Rochdale and Oldham. Was that electioneering? If not, can you tell us when we will be given a statement and
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Q10.  Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the family courts routinely expose children to the risk of abuse and even death at the hands of violent parents, according to a new report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration, which says that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service is putting children at risk by not assessing the risk of exposing them to parental contact orders with violent parents? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we urgently need safety measures in the forthcoming Children and Adoption Bill to safeguard our children against such violence?
The Prime Minister: We of course are concerned by the finding of the Inspectorate of Court Administration report that there is such a strong presumption by the courts that there must be contact with both parents that concerns about violence and children's safety are overridden. We remain utterly committed to the principle that the welfare of the child should be paramount in the consideration of the courts. We recognise that more needs to be done to address domestic violence concerns, so we will look carefully at any amendments to the Children and Adoption Bill that are tabled on the subject.
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