21 Jun 2006 : Column 1301

House of Commons

Wednesday 21 June 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—


1. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Pursuant to the answer of 27 March 2006, Official Report, columns 818-9W, on Dorneywood, what the names are of those guests visiting in an official capacity registered in Dorneywood’s visitors book since 1 May 2005. [79130]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): The visitor books belong to the Dorneywood trust and are not Government documents. I believe that they include the details of visitors going back many years, who are mostly personal guests. Successive Ministers of various Governments have used Dorneywood mostly for that purpose rather than for official visitors.

Norman Baker: I do not understand the Deputy Prime Minister’s reluctance to give us the information. Even the Prime Minister, who is not known for being straight with answers, tells us who has been to Chequers. I should have thought that the Deputy Prime Minister would want to tell us about the heads of state and important people whom he has been entertaining—or are all the visitors working-class mates whom he invited over for croquet?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That was a particularly cheap question. This House’s concern is public expenditure, and no public expenditure was involved with any of those who have been visitors at Dorneywood during my time—particularly where there have been personal visitors, I have paid the bill, and properly so. I do not think that such matters are accountable to this House, which has been the position with all previous Cabinet Ministers who have used Dorneywood. I reiterate the point that the visitors book is the property of the trust. The hon. Gentleman has confirmed his reputation in this House for being famously boring, as The Times has said.

21 Jun 2006 : Column 1302

Beijing Olympics

2. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Whether he plans to visit the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in an official capacity. [79131]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): Ministerial attendance at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing has not been finalised. I can, however, give my hon. Friend the assurance that I will not compete in any of the events. He may be aware that I visited the site of the Beijing Olympics in February this year, which included a meeting with Premier Wen and the mayor of Beijing, to discuss how to improve the links between our capital cities, and how to ensure a truly sustainable legacy for the Olympic games in both cities. I have since written to the mayor of Beijing setting out some proposals on that “sustainability bridge”, and I have also discussed the ideas with the Mayor of London, who visited Beijing himself in April for further discussions on Olympic links between London and Beijing.

Mr. Prentice: That was a very good answer. My friend carries a heavy responsibility for the UK’s relationship with China, and I know that he met a high-level delegation from the National People’s Congress last week. Will he tell the House what was the most significant thing that came out of his discussions with the representatives of the National People’s Congress?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The significant thing about my visits to China, of which there have been nine since we have been in government, is that they have been about relations between China and the United Kingdom, which have improved considerably—I am prepared to accept that that was not solely due to my actions. I discussed those relationships and other matters, such as human rights, with the delegation mentioned by my hon. Friend. I think that those discussions have led to an improvement, and I look forward to further visits to China for further discussions.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister has said that he will remain in his position as long as the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) remains Prime Minister. If he is going to attend the Beijing Olympics in an official capacity, does it mean the Prime Minister will still be there? And if so, has anyone told the current Chancellor of the Exchequer?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I did not say that.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend gets to China for the Olympics, and I hope that he does, even if he is not competing, I hope that he will speak to the Chinese authorities about building sustainability into planning for the Olympics. We must learn how to make major international events truly sustainable to mitigate the impact on climate change, a subject in which he is clearly well versed.

21 Jun 2006 : Column 1303

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has made a good point. In the discussions with Premier Wen and the mayor of Beijing, we considered establishing principles for the Olympic villages in London and Beijing to reflect sustainability and environmental targets. We have reached an agreement, and I hope that the two Olympic sites will show the Olympic movement that it is possible to build villages that meet the highest levels of sustainability and environmental objectives.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): If the right hon. Gentleman gets to the Olympics, will he convey the message from all parties that we are proud to have the 2012 Olympics in this country? Will he respond to the deep disappointment on both sides of the House that he will not take part in either the boxing or the croquet, which used to be an Olympic sport, particularly bearing in mind law 1(c) of the rules of Oxford croquet—when a player has scored enough points, he is officially described as “pegged out” and has to be removed from the game? Would it not be fairer to the British taxpayer if he were now removed from the game?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I will obviously leave others to make judgments about that. With regard to the croquet, the set was provided by the ex-Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Members of my Department wished to play croquet, and I think that we enjoyed the game, quite frankly. I know that a lot was made of it being during working hours, but I notice that there are not many people here today during working hours. Perhaps some are at Ascot, and the Daily Mail will be there photographing them— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Skinner, you must be quiet. You must allow— [Interruption.] Order.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Tell the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) to shut his mouth.

Mr. Speaker: No, I will tell no one— [Interruption.] Order. I tell the hon. Gentleman to be quiet. I will put it much more politely than he is putting it. He has got to be quiet. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is getting very childish. He has got to allow the Deputy Prime Minister to answer the question. Is the Deputy Prime Minister fine with his answer?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes.

Mr. Speaker: Good. I call Andrew Gwynne.


The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Third Sector

3. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the relationship between the Government and the third sector. [79132]

21 Jun 2006 : Column 1304

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): The new office of the third sector will build on steps taken since 1997, including significantly increased resources and the compact on joint working, to ensure that we can support the third sector’s role in all aspects of our national life, whether it is helping to deliver public services, running social enterprises, or campaigning for social justice.

Andrew Gwynne: I welcome that answer, not least because we have some very good and active third sector and community organisations in Tameside and Stockport. However, does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that in working with the third sector, Government and councils make it clear that they will not abdicate their responsibilities to fund those services adequately, but, as in my constituency, work in partnership with the third sector to deliver those improved public services?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The third sector can play an important role in innovating and getting close to the user, which the public sector sometimes cannot. For Labour Members, the fact that we have increased public spending since 1997 to deliver improved public services is absolutely consistent with an increased role for the third sector in delivery. Using the third sector is not about Government abdicating their responsibilities to fund public services adequately.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Will the Minister look at the situation concerning voluntary and charitable organisations whereby a person who serves in different categories has to be checked with the Criminal Records Bureau on every single occasion? Is not that over-bureaucratic and unnecessary?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Lady raises an important point about the operation of the Criminal Records Bureau in relation to volunteers. One of the important things about the CRB is that volunteers do not get charged for having the check done. She is right that there is a balance to be struck between the necessary protections that we need and ensuring that it is not done in a bureaucratic way. We are working with the CRB on streamlining the process for the voluntary sector and will continue to work on that in the coming months.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to listen to campaigning bodies such as Make Poverty History? Does he further agree that it was an absolute disgrace that last week, when we supported the Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on the practical application of making poverty history, the Scottish National party was not represented?

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend about the role that campaigning organisations play. I hope that there can be consensus about this in the House. I was concerned to see the remarks by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who is not in the House today, and who said of Make Poverty History:

21 Jun 2006 : Column 1305

In my view, Make Poverty History, as an umbrella group for the development movement, was incredibly effective and led to the massive strides that have been made in the past couple of years on debt and development.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that the Conservatives are very supportive of Make Poverty History. Will he acknowledge the role of social enterprise in tackling social exclusion, creating jobs, and delivering public services? Does he agree that there is a strong case for increasing the scale and scope of social enterprise by creating social enterprise zones? Will he look at ways of removing barriers to the expansion of the sector by simplifying often complex and fragmented funding flows by offering longer-term contracts and creating a more level playing field at the community level? How can any of that be achieved when eight Departments—according to research by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner)—do not monitor and refuse to keep central records of their contracts with the third sector?

Edward Miliband: That was a long and complicated question. [Hon. Members: “Answer it.”] I will. The hon. Gentleman says that the Conservative party is united behind Make Poverty History, but the man appointed to be in charge of social justice for the party said that it locked out alternative voices. That does not sound like unity behind Make Poverty History.

There has been a big growth in social enterprise in the past eight or nine years, partly because of what has been done. That includes the Phoenix fund, the support for community development finance institutions and the work of regional development agencies. Part of the role of the new office of the third sector is to bring together the work on social enterprise in one Department so that there is a further increase in social enterprise in the coming years.

Social Exclusion

4. Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What steps the Government have taken to tackle social exclusion arising from child poverty since 1997. [79133]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): The Government’s drive to end child poverty by 2020 is based on work for those who can, financial support for families, excellent public services and support for parents in their parenting role. That strategy has lifted 800,000 children out of poverty since 1997.

However, the Government will never be satisfied until we have eliminated child poverty and we are now refocusing our efforts on those who have yet to benefit.

Mr. Hepburn: We always rightly argue that the best pathway out of poverty is work. Yet, in South Tyneside, four out of 10 children have no parent in work. What will the Minister do to create special measures for South Tyneside to solve the problem?

21 Jun 2006 : Column 1306

Hilary Armstrong: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the role of worklessness in tackling child poverty. There are specific problems in South Tyneside—as he knows, I know the area well. I am working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform so that we can work with people in South Tyneside—for example, employers and other partners—to get people into work and to sustain them in work, thus enabling them to lift themselves and their children out of poverty. Tackling worklessness and inactivity, especially among those on benefits, remains our top priority and we are determined to work on that so that all children, including those in South Tyneside, get the life chances that they deserve.

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): I am glad to hear that the Minister is not satisfied with the Government’s record—she has considerable reason not to be. The Government have already missed their target for cutting child poverty and there is not one hon. Member who has not experienced cases in their surgery of poor families who are hit by demands for thousands of pounds because of Government failures in the tax credit system, which place people in extreme poverty. Is it the system that needs changing or the Ministers in charge of it?

Hilary Armstrong: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. He knows that we are not satisfied and we will continue to strive to do better. I know that he respects the academic John Hills from the London School of Economics, whose recent book states:

That has been critical to tackling the problem. The hon. Gentleman also knows that tax credits benefit 6 million families with 10 million children. In total, 20 million people live in households that benefit from tax credits. Of course we want to do better. I look forward to his working with us to ensure that we can eliminate child poverty.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the provision of adequate and affordable child care is a key issue, and that its absence is a possible barrier to parents moving into work? Although there has been a substantial increase in such child care under this Government, will she work with the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that its provision continues to improve and increase, so that that barrier can be removed?

Hilary Armstrong: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Child care provision under this Government has increased substantially, and we have put in place a framework to enable access to child care for every family throughout the country. The Sure Start programme has played an important part in achieving that. We particularly want to enable lone parents to get back into work, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) highlighted, worklessness is a particular problem for lone parents. So we will continue the drive to increase the opportunities for the children of lone parents, and child care is part of that package.

21 Jun 2006 : Column 1307


The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Admiralty House

5. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What the estimated cost to public funds is of his official residence in Admiralty house for 2006-07. [79134]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): The cost will be accounted for in the Department’s annual report and accounts in the usual way, as with previous Governments.

Mr. Bone: The Minister for Europe is being evicted from Admiralty house. Why is not the Deputy Prime Minister joining him?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is a choice that has presumably been made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe. I will be staying in that house. It goes with the job that I am doing, and I think that it is effective—[Hon. Members: “What job?”] I would make the point to the hon. Gentleman that the Admiralty hires out rooms in Admiralty house for 200-odd events a year, both public and private. I am aware that none has been hired out to any modelling agencies. I understand that, as the hon. Gentleman looks like the England manager, Sven, he worked for a modelling agency. But I believe that he did not get any bookings. Perhaps after last night’s result, he will get a few more. We congratulate the England team.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister remind us who said:

Next Section Index Home Page