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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain):
I have such discussions regularly. RAF St. Athan is a world class resource with a high-tech skills base, which we point to when we seek to attract further investment in Wales.
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John Smith: In light of the Defence Committee report on St. Athan, which has been published today, will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do everything that he can to make sure that the mistakes made by the MOD are not repeated on a much bigger project, the defence training rationalisation programme, by ensuring that the proposals are considered openly and transparently and that the final decision is based on merit and merit alone and not on back-door deals?
Mr. Hain: I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence and his team will ensure that the decision is made on merit. St. Athan offers an excellent solution as the location for the defence training review. One of the bidding consortiums, Metrix, has made St. Athan a major element of its bid, which has my support and that of the Welsh Assembly Government. I am sure that that bid will be considered on its merits, which are excellent.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Defence Committee report criticises the lack of joined-up thinking between the National Assembly for Wales and Whitehall, which is the understatement of the century. If, as Amicus claims in its evidence in the report, Morgan Stanley proposes the closure of the remaining site, will the Wales Office oppose that proposal?
Mr. Hain: We have been working very closely on that and we will continue to do so. The truth is that whatever decision has been made as regards St. Athan in the interests of restructuring the armed forces, there are still excellent opportunities. Three hundred more jobs are already on the way in 18 months' time, and there is the prospect of a strong bid for the defence training review jobs. It has a bright future and we will work very hard to secure that.
Julie Morgan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key issue is to try to retain the critical mass of expertise that has been built up in aeronautical repair work at St. Athan, where many of my constituents work? What will he do to try to keep that expertise there?
My hon. Friend is rightthere is a fantastic expertise and tradition that has served the defence industry very well. That is why we are working hard to attract new projects. We have already been successful and I am confident that we can be so in future, because it is an ideal location for defence work and for the defence training review jobs that the MOD will decide upon in due course.
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I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that at a time of high energy prices and concerns over supply we should be doing all that we can to maximise oil and gas production. Given the worries in north-east Scotland that we might not achieve that potential, even though there is more than 30 years of work still left to do, will the Prime Minister agree to meet a delegation of concerned constituents and industry representatives to hear how this country can unlock the maximum wealth of the oil and gas waiting on our doorstep?
The Prime Minister: I am perfectly happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and any constituents or business interests that he wishes to bring to see me. It is obviously important that we get the right regime for the North seathat is what we try to dobut he is certainly right to say that energy policy is a major issue for the coming years.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning one of the most disgraceful decisions by Liberal-led Chesterfield borough council in closing the only available swimming facility in one of the most deprived wards near my part of the constituency in Staveley?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I think that on balance I can. I join my hon. Friend in condemning that decision. It is extremely important that we invest in community facilities; that is why the Government are putting major sums into that. I hope that local authorities follow the Government's lead instead of cutting those facilities.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): With rising deficits in the NHS, huge costs of pension reform and tighter pressures on public spending, how can the Prime Minister claim that spending at least £600 million a year on his ID card scheme is a good use of public money?
The Prime Minister:
Because if we introduce an ID card scheme and reduce identity fraud, that makes a major difference to the costs of Government and the costs of doing business. In today's world, if we want to
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tackle illegal migration, crime and identity fraud, using the new biometric technology to have ID cards is an important part of doing so.
Mr. Cameron: But we face those problems and threats today; these cards will not come in until 2013. The Prime Minister could use the money to buy 20,000 extra police officers or to have 24-hour security at our ports. Will he accept that almost every Government IT programme has massively overrun? What guarantee can he give that his estimates are right, whereas the London School of Economics, which talks about costs of £14.5 billionalmost half the entire budget of the Department for Education and Skillsis wrong?
The Prime Minister: First, if the right hon. Gentleman's concern is that ID cards will not be introduced quickly enough, he should work with us to ensure that they are introduced more quickly, but that is an absurd reason for not introducing them. As for the calculations made by the LSE, I think that I am right that, although the report was put out under the LSE's name, it was actually written by the leading campaigner against ID cards on the ground of civil liberties. So I do not think that it is an entirely objective assessment.
The right hon. Gentleman should think again about ID cards, which are an important, indeed, essential way of tackling illegal migration and crime in the early 21st century. Perhaps I may put it like this: they may be the future, not the past.
Mr. Cameron: When it comes to who is working with the Prime Minister, perhaps he could answer the following question. It has been widely reported that the Chancellor does not back ID cards and would scrap them, so will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that, when the Chancellor takes over his job, the scheme will be continued?
The Prime Minister: I certainly can give a guarantee that the Government as a whole are absolutely behind ID cardsthe Chancellor himself has provided the start-up costs. Why are ID cards so important now? Because we know, from all the available evidence, that identity fraud is on the increasethat is bound to happen in the modern world. Many people, including the former leader of the Conservative party, reached the conclusion that we need identity cards, and it is right to do that now because the biometric technology is coming in. Other countries are moving towards biometric passports and we will have to do that. The largest part of the cost of an identity card will be the biometric passport, which we must have. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of the biometric passport; perhaps he could elucidate thatwe know that his policy tends to shift a little quickly nowadays.
I think that I should remind the Prime Minister that these sessions are about me asking questions on behalf of the public and him answering on behalf of the Government. If he wants to switch that
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around, he can hold a general election. Does not he have a choice: think again or plough on with what will become a monument to the failure of big government?
The Prime Minister: I totally disagree with him. I apologise for asking policy questions but the right hon. Gentleman's policies change so quicklyalmost on a day-to-day basisthat sometimes it is a good idea to inform myself simply to keep up with where he is at any one time.
With the greatest respect, he should think again about the matter. We will have to introduce biometric passportsI know that he agrees with thatand we will therefore have to make enormous changes in the years to come for the vast bulk of people who have passports. Identity fraud is also a major and growing problem. People throughout the world are moving towards identity card systems because they are necessary to tackle the problems of today's world. Of course there is a cost to identity cards but there is a cost to identity fraud in so many different ways. As the argument progresses, I suspect that he will find himself in the same position as he has been on rather a lot of policies recently, from the patient's passport to selection in schools and from the environment to social justiceI could go on; it is a long list. At the next general election, I suspect that he will be standing on his head on ID cards, as he has done on so many other issues.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that, this week, the leader of a minor political party in Scotland announced that he would run for the Scottish Parliament next year. Not only has he put his name down for the constituency, which he will lose, but he has put himself first on the list, which he may win. Many of my constituents are asking whether it is fair that he has two bites at the democratic cherry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an affront to democracy when losers can become winners?
Sir Menzies Campbell: Following the tragic murders at Soham, Sir Michael Bichard, in a report published over 18 months ago, made 31 recommendations. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many of them have been implemented?
The Prime Minister:
I cannot tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman precisely how many have been implemented since Michael Bichard produced his report, but we will ensure that legislation is introduced
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to implement that report. Michael himself said the other evening that
"the Department for Education and Science have been working hard since the inquiry on producing a single barring scheme and they've kept me in touch with . . . what they were doing, and I'm very impressed with the work actually that they've done."
Sir Menzies Campbell: The Prime Minister will know that one of the key recommendations of the Bichard inquiry was a police computer system designed to share intelligence about sex offenders. Can he tell us why the IMPACT computer system is reported to be three years behind schedule, and when does he expect it to be fully functional?
The Prime Minister: I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the reason off the cuff, but I will write to him. However, since 1997this is an important point that should be made in light of all the recent perfectly understandable controversythere has been a tightening, not a loosening, of the system. It is worth pointing out that people have taken these types of decisions in very difficult cases going back many, many decades. Of course, it is important that we introduce Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations, and tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will talk about further safeguards that we will introduce and which, I very much hope, will command the support of the whole House.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): How will the Prime Minister's respect agenda help my constituents in Wakefield who live on estates near problem families? Does he agree that talk of sacking so-called underperforming police officers, as some hon. Members have suggested, does nothing to boost police morale in west Yorkshire?
The Prime Minister: I think it is important to recognise that where the police and local authorities are using those antisocial behaviour powers they are making a real difference. My hon. Friend will know of such cases in her own constituency, and hon. Members up and down the country will know of the impact of the legislation. Of course, it is important that we make sure that everyone is aware of that. All local authorities are using the antisocial behaviour legislation, but the new powers will allow authorities to evict people from their homes if they are making life an absolute misery for people in their local communities. Despite the fact that some people have described those powers as a gimmick, I think that they will be used and will make an important difference, as is the case with the ability to close down crack houses and houses used for drug dealing. The reason that antisocial behaviour measures are increasingly being used is that they are increasingly effective where used.
However, a uniquely detailed public consultation[Interruption.] I will read that again for the benefit of
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the Prime Minister, because I do not think that he heard it properly. He said that
A uniquely detailed public consultation by the West Mercia police authority revealed overwhelming public opposition to a merged west midlands police force. If the Prime Minister meant what he said, will he ask the Home Secretary to set aside his support for a merged force and open his mind to alternatives that would meet his strategic objectives?
The Prime Minister: It is important that we listen to local people, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will do so. Of course, many different things could happen, including forces coming together for certain strategic tasks that they are better able to fulfil on a common, rather than singular, basis. I can assure him, however, that we will listen carefully to what people say, including in his constituency.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): On Monday this week, I attended the funeral of 14-year-old Tom Harland, one of the four cyclists killed in the worst cycling accident in British history. Will the Prime Minister join me in extending sympathy to all the families of those who died. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has asked for a report into the accident. Will the Prime Minister ensure that if lessons can be learned from this tragic accident they will be learned and that practices and procedures will be changed?
The Prime Minister: I would like to express, I am sure on behalf of the whole House, our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those who were so tragically killed. I understand that there is a continuing police investigation, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has asked for a full report, and will visit the site himself. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will learn whatever lessons are necessary to learn, and act upon them.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I associate myself with the Prime Minister's remarks about the dreadful accident to which the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) referred? On climate change, Government Departments have a target for getting 10 per cent. of their energy from renewable sources? Given that five of the biggest Departments were meeting that target before it was set, could the Prime Minister be a little more ambitious?
The Prime Minister: To be fair, we are being immensely ambitious on renewables. We have placed an obligation on energy suppliers to supply increasing proportions of energy from renewables, which will be worth something like £1 billion to the renewable industry by 2010. In addition, we are providing £500 million over the next few years to help to develop renewable and low-carbon technologies, and we have a target of 10 per cent. renewable generation by 2010 and 20 per cent. by 2020. Renewables capacity has increased by 9 per cent. in the past couple of years alone. Therefore, with respect, we are being highly ambitious.
I welcome what the Prime Minister has said, but targets for Government Departments are
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something over which he has control and about which he could be more ambitious[Hon. Members: "How?"] Hon. Members shout "How?", but the answer is pretty obviousby raising them. The National Audit Office said that the Government policy was not stretching and the Environmental Audit Committee said that it was bizarre and highly unsatisfactory. In advance of next week's energy review, what is the Prime Minister planning to do about the fact that carbon emissions from Government Departments have gone up and continue to rise?
The Prime Minister: Of course we want to make sure that Government Departments have stretching targets, which are, indeed, in place, and it is always important to examine how they can be increased. If we are talking about carbon emissions overall, however, that involves not simply Government Departments but the whole country. If we are to reduce carbon emissions, one important way of doing so is the climate change levy, which will save 3.7 million tonnes of carbon by 2010. It is unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman's spokesman said yesterday that his party is still against the climate change levy. I know that the right hon. Gentleman also has a proposal, to which he has committed the Conservative party, for a statutory reduction in carbon emissions every year, monitored by an independent body. I must say to him that he should think through carefully the consequences of that policy, because in some years, for all sorts of reasons, such as the weather, carbon emissions might go up, and he would then have to increase fuel taxes significantly. He should therefore think through his opposition to us on the climate change levy, which is working, and his support for a policy that I would say is a trifle dodgy, although I understand the motives behind it. If we consider his environmental policy, where it is sensible it is in agreement with the Government's, and where it is not in agreement with the Government's, it is not sensible.
Q3.  Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Thankfully, people are living longer, but with increasing life expectancy comes increasing demand for improved social care. Next Wednesday, I will have the privilege of introducing a ten-minute Bill on palliative care for the terminally ill, and last November the NHS Confederation published a paper asking for wider access to palliative care. Does the Prime Minister agree that despite increased investment in the hospice movement, extended care is essential for the protection of vulnerable and elderly people?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend, and the forthcoming White Paper on community health and primary care might offer some support for what he says. We are also investing about £12 million in an end-of-life palliative care proposal, which will help people to get access to such care. He is absolutely right in what he says, and let me take this opportunity to commend the hospice movement once again for all its superb work.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
(PC): On the issue of respect, does the Prime Minister respect the views of General Sir Michael Rose, who believes that he should be impeached for his role in the Iraq debacle?
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The Prime Minister: I do not agree with him, obviously, for reasons that will not surprise him. I think the great thing about a democracy is that people are entitled to different views, but I must tell Sir Michael, and indeed the hon. Gentleman, that I think it is also a great thing when 10 million or more Iraqis vote in a democratic election for the first time. If we are under pressure in Iraq from people who are trying to stop them from having a democracy, our job is to stand up for the democrats against the terrorists and insurgents. I think, with respect, that that is the right position.
Q4.  Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Well over 1,000 homes in Crawley have been insulated under the warm front scheme. Provision ranges from simple insulation to full central heating. Older people are cosy in their homes, and young people are able to study, play and achieve their potential. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such measures are real ways of reducing poverty, rather than just talking about it like the Opposition?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is not merely that so many people have benefited from the warm front programme; in 1996 some 4 million households suffered from fuel poverty, and that has now fallen to 1 million. In many cases that is a result of measures taken by the Government, particularly the additional help for families on low incomes and for pensioners. It is an excellent example, along with the new deal for the unemployed, of social justice in action, not theory.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): The Prime Minister could not explain the reasons for the police computer delay in answer to an earlier question. Why, then, should we believe what he says about identity cards, given that they are above all else a Government computer project?
The Prime Minister: They are not simply a Government computer project. I have just given the reasons for identity cards in replying to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), but let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. If we note the number of occasions on which people require identification to gain access to servicesnot just in respect of Government, but in respect of their private sector transactionsit is obvious that in today's world, a proper source of identity provides a very important way of achieving greater efficiency
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should let the Prime Minister answer. [Interruption.] I am not responsible for the content of the answers. I cannot allow an hon. Member to question the Prime Minister and then shout across the Chamber.
The Prime Minister:
On the subject of computer technology, let me say that it is not as if, in respect of either passports or identity throughout the western world, there are not well-tried systems for identity cards. The Conservative party must make up its mind about whether its real objection to identity cards is based on
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civil libertiesan objection which I think is completely misplaced. What the Conservatives are really doing is raising issues related to computer technology as a smokescreen for their true opposition, which I think is completely out of touch with the instincts of the British people.
Q5.  Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): If the leaked reports are accurate, and the telephones of Members of Parliament are to be tappedwhich represents a change of policy after some 40 years, and I hope that the reports are not accuratewill my right hon. Friend pledge that before any change is made, there will be a proper debate and vote in the House of Commons? Constitutional issues are involved, and I hope my right hon. Friend recognises that.
Let me make one thing absolutely clear. The reason why this is an issue has nothing to do withas has been reportedmy desire to tap Members' phones in the wake of terrorism, Iraq or anything else. It is an issueand I hope that we can have a proper discussion about this across the Housebecause of the recommendations of the intercept commissioner. I am obliged to reflect on those recommendations, and I will reflect on them. I will obviously discuss them with colleagues, and we will present proposals when we are ready.
The Prime Minister: The reasons have been given by the Department for Education and Skills and the Select Committee on Education and Skills for many years. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join usand, now, his right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)in saying that up to 10 per cent. selection according to aptitude in specialist schools is fine, but condemning a return to academic selection.
Q6.  Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Has the Prime Minister seen the report from Sheffield Hallam university, published today, which shows that the Government's policies for tackling antisocial behaviour are working? Does he agree that reducing crime and antisocial behaviour is possible when there is a good partnership between statutory and voluntary bodies, such as the partnership between the police and Walmgate residents in York, which drove drug dealers off the local streets? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that such joint working is happening in many of our hon. Friends' constituencies, and that it is not at all a gimmick, as the Leader of the Opposition claims?
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend will have noticed the ridicule heaped on antisocial behaviour legislation by the Conservatives. Of course, the report to which he refers indicates that there were massive changes as a result of those powers being used. Families reported a great reduction in antisocial behaviour because of the
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eviction of those who were causing real trouble in local neighbourhoods. I have to say to the Conservatives, who seem to be against this antisocial behaviour legislation, that again, they are completely out of touch with the British people. The fact is that people in local communities believe that there should be certain rules, that a certain amount of order should apply in those communities, and that those who consistently fail to show respect and responsibility towards others should be dealt with. Where summary powers such as on-the-spot fines, antisocial behaviour orders, dispersal orders and the ability to evict people who are causing a nuisance in local neighbourhoods are used, they work. They should be used more often, and they should have the support of all Members of this House.
Q7.  Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that when cattle fail the TB test, they need to be destroyed. However, why, when an error may have occurred, is there no appeal process and no opportunity for the farmer to be heard? Instead, verbal bullying, threats and intimidation have been levelled at a constituent of mine, Mrs. Booton. I wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 5 December and I still have not had a reply. Will the Prime Minister investigate these appeals? I am worried that, if people do not co-operate, the Government's policy for sorting out this disease will be seriously undermined.
The Prime Minister: I know that proposals are being introduced to deal with bovine TB. Obviously, I do not know about the particular incident that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I am perfectly happy to look into it, discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and get back to him.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mr. Speakerit is like Christmas day, birthday and Boxing day all rolled into one. Earlier, my right hon. Friend was being challenged on the question of carbon emissions. Will he take into account that one reason why carbon emissions increased was that, when the Tories were in power, they closed down the clean technology plant in Yorkshire? Will he ensure that we keep on board the few pits that remain? Is he aware that an attempt is being made to get a loan to save 288 jobs at Harworth colliery? Will he have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is sat next to him? All that Harworth wants is a guaranteed loan, and those jobs can be secured. Is he playing?
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us that, whatever the problem, the origins always lie with the Conservative party. I know that the Department of Trade and Industry is looking carefully at the application submitted by that colliery. I cannot give him an answer now, but I will certainly look into the matter.
Q8.  John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare)
(Con): Will the Prime Minister please arrange an urgent review of the financial settlement for NHS dentistry
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funding in Weston-super-Mare? As he undertakes that review, will he bear it in mind that the vast majority of adult provision of such dentistry in Weston-super-Mare is undertaken by just one practice, which deals with 22,000 patients, and that it has been told that, starting this April, it will have to cut patient numbers by 30 per cent.?
The Prime Minister: I understand that this is a problem and of course, one reason why we are trying to get more dentists into the NHS is precisely in order to deal with it. I am afraid that, in the end, as a result of the contract, which was made in 1990, we cannot force dentists to come back in and to provide NHS services. But we are doing our best to recruit more NHS dentists, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us in that.
Q9.  Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Opposition have tabled a number of amendments to the Work and Families Bill. Despite their so-called willingness to stand up to big business, are they not scared of family-friendly policies, and is that not corroborated by today's Financial Times?
Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest)
(Ind): If he has not done so already, will the Prime Minister find time to read at least the summary of the report from the Health Select Committee on primary care trusts? If he agrees with the thrust of the summary, will he try to persuade
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Ministers in the Department of Health that the proposed reorganisation of the NHS, the 25th since 1982, is the wrong one at the wrong time?
The Prime Minister: I do not think that it is the wrong time to consider these matters, given the shift to practice-based commissioning and payment by results. It is important that we look at the right way to configure the PCTs, and that is something that people are consulting on. However, the hon. Gentleman will know from his constituencyand, after all, he has a special interest in the matterthat there has been major investment in health care over recent years. Contrary to some of the publicity today, the result of that investment is the fact that waiting lists are at the lowest level since 1988. Also, many people who used to wait two years for an operation now get it within months.
Q10.  Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Although real progress was made last year towards making poverty history, the results of the World Trade Organisation discussions in Hong Kong were disappointing. What steps is my right hon. Friend going to take to give impetus to the process, so that we can move towards fair trade?
The Prime Minister: We are in discussion with our principal allies, in Europe, America and elsewhere, about how we push the WTO talks on. It is important that the offer in those talks is bold and ambitious. The talks are about trade and services, as well as agriculture. We need Europe and America, as well as the emerging countries such as Brazil and India, to do more in terms of opening up their markets. The benefits of a successful trade round for all of us, not just the poorest people in the world, will be considerable. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to do all that we can to achieve that.
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