Previous Section Index Home Page

14 Jun 2006 : Column 764

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I know that the Prime Minister and the whole House will sympathise with the extreme distress and trauma caused to the three-year-old child who was abducted and sexually abused in Cardiff, and with the distress caused to her family, who are my constituents in Cardiff, North. I know that my right hon. Friend will not want to comment on the individual case, but will he do his best to press the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure that, following the review that it is undertaking, there will no longer be an automatic reduction in sentence in return for a guilty plea in the cases of the most serious crimes and the most dangerous offenders?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is exactly why, with indeterminate sentences, people are not able to get parole automatically, as they used to. Under the 2003 Act, the indeterminate sentence provisions were extended to a schedule of no fewer than 66 different offences. Therefore, even in circumstances where people are considered for parole, there is no automatic right to it. I think that that entirely meets her point. Furthermore, it is important to realise that, partly as a result of the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, but also as a result of what has happened over the past few years, not only has the number of prison places increased but sentences are longer and people are serving longer sentences. In relation to sexual offences in particular, the law has been strengthened considerably. The powers are there, and I hope that the courts use them to the fullest extent possible.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the condolences and sympathy expressed by the Prime Minister a moment or two ago.

In 2003, the energy White Paper described nuclear energy as an unattractive proposition on grounds of cost and waste. Can the Prime Minister tell us what has changed now?

The Prime Minister: I certainly can. First, energy prices are rising the entire time, which is why the whole issue of nuclear energy is back on the agenda not just of this country but of many other countries around the world. I think that 50 to 60 different nuclear power stations are being built this year, including the first in Europe for a long time. Secondly, our anxiety about climate change and the need to find clean sources of energy is increasing. Thirdly, when we consider our self-sufficiency in energy, we find that we are about 80 to 90 per cent. sufficient in oil and gas. Over the next 15 to 20 years, that will reverse, and we will have to import. Therefore, there are reasons of security of supply, rising energy costs and climate change. I am not saying that nuclear is the only answer—of course it is not. There are renewables, energy efficiency and everything else. However, I still think that nuclear must be at least part of the debate and argument if we are to make sure that our energy needs are properly and cleanly met for the future. That answers the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The Prime Minister was not precise on the costs of nuclear power. Can he confirm
14 Jun 2006 : Column 765
that the taxpayer is liable for up to £90 billion to clean up the existing generation of nuclear power stations? Who will pay for a new generation of nuclear power stations? Will it be business, the taxpayer or the consumer?

The Prime Minister: Let me point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the decommissioning costs of existing nuclear power stations will have to be met in any event. The whole point— [Interruption.] Will hon. Members listen to the answer? The technology of nuclear power is also changing, and the new generation of nuclear power stations generate around one tenth of the waste of the previous generation. Therefore, if we are to take the correct long-term decisions for the future of this country, the debate must be engaged in and decided on now.

Q3. [77006] Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Last weekend, I was contacted by a constituent, Mrs. Karen Stupart, who tragically lost her husband John in a building site accident over 10 years ago. Mrs. Stupart was subsequently awarded more than £250,000 of damages through the courts, but she and her family have yet to receive one penny of that money. Her late husband’s former employers declared themselves bankrupt immediately after the award was made, and their insurers, Lombard, exploited a legal technicality to avoid making a payment. This Government can be justifiably proud of setting up the Pension Protection Fund to protect the pensions of workers whose employers go bust. Cannot we now consider extending that protection to compensatory payments made in cases of workplace negligence? Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the extremely distressing circumstances of this case?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I extend my sympathy in relation to the situation that his constituent has experienced. He will know that employment tribunal awards, if unpaid, are enforced through the civil courts. The forthcoming Courts and Tribunals Bill, which we intend to publish in draft during this Parliament, will set out proposals for the reform of the current system of enforcement. At the moment, as he rightly points out, there is real anxiety that the system of enforcement does not adequately meet the needs of claimants. Publishing the Bill in draft will give us an opportunity to debate the issue and to see how we strengthen the law. I look forward to discussing the issue with him.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Multiple sclerosis nurses take the burden off the NHS, provide high-quality care and give patients the treatment that they need. Is the Prime Minister aware that the MS Trust says that, because of NHS cuts, a quarter of specialist posts are at risk? Given that each MS nurse saves the NHS £64,000, what will the Prime Minister do to ensure that crisis cuts to reduce budget deficits do not do long-term damage to our NHS?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, we have to make sure that the difficult financial decisions that need to be taken are taken, and that the NHS is in balance. Of course, the vast majority of trusts are either breaking
14 Jun 2006 : Column 766
even or are in balance. It is also important, however, to recognise that, even with the financial situation in the national health service, there is a huge amount of additional money going in, which has to be used by trusts in the most effective and efficient way possible. On MS, we have of course put a massive amount of additional money into MS, and into many of the other diseases that need management by the individual and by the system over a long period of time.

Mr. Cameron: But it is not just MS nurses who are being affected; according to the Royal College of Nursing, 15,000 NHS jobs are being lost. At the Horton hospital in Banbury—an acute general hospital—we are seeing nursing posts being removed, the potential loss of consultants and emergency procedures in the maternity unit, and the ending of a full-time children’s service. Those sorts of cuts are happening throughout the NHS and are profoundly affecting the hospitals that serve our constituents, yet the Health Secretary says that this is the best ever year for the health service. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to apologise to the thousands of NHS staff for the crass insensitivity of that remark?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman talks about job losses, but with the greatest of respect, when we look into a lot of those so-called job losses, we find that they are actually either posts that are not being filled or agency workers who are not being hired. Since we came to power, there have been about 250,000 additional people working in the national health service, and, in addition, we are paying them better than ever before and protecting their pensions. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is speaking up for the NHS and the nurses, but he opposed the extra investment in the national health service, he opposed the extra jobs in the national health service, he opposed the pay deals in the national health service, and now he wants to take away their pensions. So whoever else is in a good position to represent them, he certainly is not.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in warmly welcoming the apology given by the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, Andy Hayman, to the family whose home was raided and the residents of Forest Gate? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the police must protect the public by acting on intelligence, they must do so in a sensitive way that does not alienate the community—in this case, the Muslim community?

The Prime Minister: First, I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concern, which she very properly raises as the constituency Member of Parliament. I also of course fully endorse what Andy Hayman said. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to say one other thing. Andy Hayman and his team do a superb job in protecting this country. They are faced with very difficult situations when they receive information or intelligence, and we can only imagine what would happen if they received intelligence, did not act on it, and something terrible occurred. Although I entirely endorse everything that Andy has very properly said, I also stand 101 per cent. behind the
14 Jun 2006 : Column 767
police and the security services in the difficult work that they do, and I do not want them to be inhibited in doing that work. They have to do what is necessary to protect the public, and they do it in a very fine and outstanding way.

Q4. [77007] John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Given that the Prime Minister’s Government’s plans for identity cards will require a complex new IT system, can he tell the House of any major Government IT project that has been delivered on budget or on time, or which works?

The Prime Minister: There is one that is quite closely linked to the identity card idea, which, of course, is the passport system. It required a complicated computer project and it has worked extremely well.

Q5. [77008] Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Britain led the world on climate change at the G8 summit last year. Now that the Government have pledged to make Government offices and agencies carbon neutral by 2012 by offsetting emissions through carbon-absorbing and carbon-reducing measures, will my right hon. Friend ensure that local government follows the Government’s lead and does the same?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to say that local government has a responsibility too, but it is not for us to enforce that. I can assure him that we will do our best to persuade local government to join in the central Government initiative. He is also right to say that this country has a key leadership position on climate change, because we are meeting the Kyoto targets and have introduced the climate change levy. Incidentally, I notice that although the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were supposed to be building a cross-party consensus on this, one of them has now—

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Tories were useless.

The Prime Minister: It was the Tories’ fault, was it? Sounds reasonable to me.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Prime Minister said that fewer people were getting parole as a direct consequence of his policies. That is wrong. Does he not realise that fewer people are getting parole because the probation service and the Parole Board have been destroyed by this Government? As a direct consequence of the activities of his Government, the Parole Board is unable to interview directly prisoners who should not be released, so they are released and commit terrible crimes. It is no good the Prime Minister shouting at the Opposition: he should know the facts before he makes such pronouncements.

The Prime Minister: With the greatest respect, the fact is that as a result of the Act the automatic parole that used to apply after two thirds of the sentence no longer applies. In relation to the Parole Board, we are
14 Jun 2006 : Column 768
trying to give a greater say to victims, and I would have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman welcomed that.

Q6. [77009] Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend is serious in his desire to reform public services, it is crucial that the Government value public sector workers and continue to work with the trade unions in effecting change. Will he condemn the shoddy way in which some Liberal Democrat and Tory councils have treated their work force recently and reject the Tory argument that public sector pensions are unfair?

The Prime Minister: It is important to recognise that for all the difficulties in carrying through a tough process of public service reform, we have—as my hon. Friend rightly implies—employed some 80,000 extra nurses in the national health service, and about 250,000 more staff in total. Incidentally, they are not bureaucrats but front-line staff engaged in delivering good care. It is also true that we are paying our nurses, consultants and GPs a lot more. I personally think that that is a good idea and that they are worth it. In return for that, of course, we want to see the necessary changes made. My hon. Friend is right that it is the mixture of investment and reform that is at the heart of the issue, and it appears that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives oppose both.

Q7. [77010] Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Now that Ron Jones and others have lost the right to sue Saudi officials for torture, what meaningful legal redress is there for any Briton tortured abroad in the light of the Law Lords’ ruling?

The Prime Minister: May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we intervened in this case in order to ensure that the rules of international law and state immunity are fully and accurately presented and upheld? That is important for us as a country and for others. But our strong position against torture remains unchanged: we utterly condemn it in every set of circumstances.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Another cloud of anxiety that hangs over the future of our energy supplies stems from the reports recently by the electricity generating industry that many of our coastline power stations are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the energy review, are the Government prepared to consider whether new major power stations—including nuclear ones—should be sited inland?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that in the course of the energy review we will look at all those different issues, but my hon. Friend’s question highlights the urgency of the climate change question. It is apparent from all the evidence that has been presented, even in the past couple of years, on the issue of climate change that it is not only that the science has been accepted, but that the process of warming may be happening at a faster rate than we anticipated. My greatest worry is that there is a mismatch between the timing of the
14 Jun 2006 : Column 769
international community in getting the right agreements in place and the absolute necessity of taking urgent action now.

Q8. [77011] David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): A senior police officer in the Republic of Ireland has confirmed that the 10,000 rounds of ammunition found there last week were the property of the Provisional IRA. He went on to say that there is still a lot of matériel out there. Does the Prime Minister agree that the full decommissioning that was promised to the people of Northern Ireland did not in fact happen?

The Prime Minister: I cannot agree with that. In the end, the test for decommissioning has to be applied by the Independent Monitoring Commission. Throughout the peace process of the past few years, we have sought some form of independent verification of whether claims made by the IRA, or others, are justified. That is why we introduced the IMC. It will look at all the evidence, including statements from people in the Republic or in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and make up its mind as a result. We must make our judgments on the basis of what it says. If we do not, we will lose the essential objectivity that is the only way to determine claim and counterclaim. The hon. Gentleman has long experience of these issues and will know that claims and counterclaims are made on all
14 Jun 2006 : Column 770
sides. The only way to determine them finally is through the process that we set up—and which he supported at the time.

Q9. [77012] Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that, for three-quarters of a century, it has suited the British establishment to suppress documents and circumstantial details relating to the execution of more than 300 British soldiers and officers—many of them brave—in the first world war? Does he recognise that there is overwhelming support in the country and this House of Commons for the proposal that he and the Secretary of State for Defence should review those executions and remedy the wrong by granting posthumous pardons, albeit very late in the day, and that they should do so on 1 July—the occasion of the first veterans day, and the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to look at what my hon. Friend says. I understand the concern to which he refers, and I shall get back to him with an answer. I know that what happened still causes people a great deal of distress and hurt, even after all these years.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Will hon. Members please leave the Chamber quietly?

14 Jun 2006 : Column 771

Points of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 16 May, a Health Minister informed the House that Hertfordshire would be served by two primary care trusts, as part of the shake-up of PCTs. However, I fear that both I and the Minister have been misled by the East of England strategic health authority, which has written to me today to say that

To all intents and purposes, that sounds like one PCT in everything but name. How can I best alert the Minister to that slipperiness and obfuscation, so that he can deal with it?

Mr. Speaker: I advise the hon. Gentleman to apply for an Adjournment debate. It sounds like an excellent subject.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a written answer that I received from the Home Office last Friday, it was revealed that 23 life prisoners—who had been released on licence and who therefore should have been supervised by the Home Office—had gone on the run. That is a clear indication that this Government do not enforce life sentences properly. Today, it has emerged that the Prime Minister told The Sun newspaper, outside the House, that he backs its excellent campaign that life should mean life. However, no Home Office Minister has come to the House to explain—

Mr. Speaker: Order. One thing that the hon. Gentleman must not do is draw the Speaker into the argument. That is the last thing he wants to do.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I submitted a named day question to the Home Secretary on 26 April concerning the very important issue of foreign prisoner releases from Peterborough prison in my constituency. Six weeks later, I have yet to receive a substantive answer. I seek your guidance on what I believe to be the shoddy treatment of a Back Bencher attempting to fulfil his duty in holding the Executive to account.

Mr. Speaker: I think that the Leader of the House might be able to help the House on this point.

Next Section Index Home Page