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Earnings Statistics

8. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What the average earnings were in Wales in the last period for which figures are available. [81355]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): Latest figures for Wales show average weekly earnings of £454.40 in 2005, which is 87.9 per cent of the average for the UK as a whole.

Mr. Crabb: I thank the Under-Secretary for that reply. Average wages in Preseli Pembrokeshire increased only modestly in the past five years and remain well below the UK and Welsh averages. In contrast, house prices have soared by more than 170 per cent. in that period. What is he doing specifically to tackle the growing crisis of housing affordability, which affects families and young people throughout Wales? What steps are his Labour colleagues in the Assembly taking to deal with that problem? Why do they not deliver the social housing that is required in Wales?

Nick Ainger: In fact, in the past year, the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine have experienced the fastest rise in average earnings in Wales. In the past four years, average earnings in Wales have risen faster than in England. We are closing the gap, especially in the objective 1 area, where there have been increases of 21 per cent. in average earnings in the past four years.

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The problem of the affordability of housing is not unique to west Wales—it applies throughout Wales and the rest of the country. The Government are investing significant sums in tackling that problem. We are ensuring that social housing funds are available, working with housing associations to develop new schemes and considering innovative schemes such as community land trusts. I expect Pembrokeshire housing association and Pembrokeshire county council to examine those radical and innovative ways of providing affordable social housing in his and my communities.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Given the importance of Airbus to the Welsh economy and to the earnings of 6,500 people in Wales, and now that there is a shift from the use of metallic materials to composites in new aircraft design and manufacture, does the Minister share my alarm at the reports that the Spanish Government are targeting our wing business in Wales? Will he guarantee that he will do everything in his power to ensure his Cabinet colleagues’ support for the new A350 aircraft?

Nick Ainger: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met Airbus senior management because of the latest concerns about EADS and its share price. He was assured that Airbus has a long-term commitment to both Broughton and Filton. They are world leaders in wing production and have a skills base that is almost unique—the only other is in Seattle, in the United States. My right hon. Friend was assured of the long-term future of Airbus investment in Broughton and Filton.

Mrs. Gillan: But does the Minister agree that bringing the A350 to Wales will create 10,800 more jobs in UK aerospace and that we need firm assurances from Welsh Ministers that they will back the production of A350 wings in Wales and in the United Kingdom?

Nick Ainger: Of course we have done that, and we have put significant launch project funding into all the schemes that Airbus has promoted—about £21 billion over the years. There is no question but that the Government are fully backing the Airbus project. Bearing in mind that investment and the jobs in Broughton that are dependent on it, I am concerned that the hon. Lady is now raising these issues—they do not exist.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Airbus employs more than 7,000 people at Broughton, and that has been possible due to the support of this Government, investing in successful manufacturing. Airbus is European co-operation; does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party’s attitude to Europe could well threaten the future of such co-operation?

Nick Ainger: I totally agree. My hon. Friend emphasises the importance of Airbus not just to the local economy but to the economy of north Wales and north-west England. It provides more than 7,000 extremely well-paid jobs, and it is there because the Government have regularly invested substantial sums to support the development of new technology at that plant and in Filton. As my hon. Friend says, the anti-European attitude that still runs through the Conservative party threatens that co-operation.

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Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): One of the main reasons Wales is languishing at the bottom of the wages league under this Government is the loss of high-wage manufacturing jobs. The Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent said that existing Government policy had failed and there was a desperate need for a new manufacturing strategy. Does the Minister, or indeed the Chancellor, agree?

Nick Ainger: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that just recently, although there have been problems in certain companies, International Rectifier, which makes semiconductors, has brought 250 well-paid jobs to Newport; Ford, developing the new Volvo engine in Bridgend, has created 250 new jobs; LogicaCMG has created 765 well-paid jobs with a high-tech MOD contract; and other jobs are being created in the finance and service sectors. Although there may well be problems in certain sectors, the economy in Wales is diverse. We are seeing expansion upon expansion, and new jobs are being created where other, older jobs are being lost. It is a dynamic economy and we are moving forward. Wales is doing extremely well.

Search and Rescue Operations

10. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the future of search and rescue operations in Wales. [81357]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): Search and rescue provision in the UK is continuously reviewed by the UK search and rescue strategic committee and its associated working groups. No changes to the level of service are currently planned to the helicopter search and rescue service in Wales, operated by the Ministry of Defence and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Albert Owen: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. He will be aware of the excellent work that is done by the search and rescue community in Wales and the contribution of Squadron 22 that is based at RAF Valley. He will be further aware that the headquarters of SAR is to be moved to Valley in the coming year. There are concerns about the harmonisation that is planned by the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport. Owing to financial savings involving the private finance initiative, that could undermine the operations and deployments in place. Can the Minister give assurances that that will not be the case? Will he press the MOD and the Department for Transport for those assurances?

Nick Ainger: I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. Rigorous assessment of options by the joint MOD-Marine and Coastguard Agency procurement team led to a recommendation of harmonisation under a private finance initiative. The MOD and the MCA will continue jointly to manage and task the service, and will retain a high proportion of military aircrews. There will be no reductions in the service provision of search and rescue helicopters. The Government are committed to delivering a future service that is at least as effective as the present one. I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured.

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The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [82382] Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 5 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the House will join me in sending our condolences and sympathy to the families of Corporal Peter Thorpe and Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, who were killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. They were immensely brave and committed soldiers and we mourn their loss deeply.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Tom Brake: In the past week we have witnessed the systematic destruction of the infrastructure that the Palestinian people need for their survival. Does the Prime Minister agree that this military action is in breach of international law and constitutes collective punishment that the international community should condemn and bring to an end as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister: I entirely agree that the situation is very serious. We have made it clear what we believe that the Israeli Government should do in the circumstances. However, I return to the point that I have made on many occasions. We can condemn Israel on the one hand or the Palestinian Authority on the other. The only thing that will resolve this issue ultimately is a restart to the negotiation process and a two-state solution that is in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): As London has its own elected assembly and a directly elected Mayor, who even has his own foreign policy, does my right hon. Friend think that the time is approaching when we should ban London Members from voting— [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister: Tempting though that occasionally might be, no. I think that it is important that we have one class of Member of Parliament, which is an essential part of our constitution. I hope very much that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) will rethink his position on this. It is wholly contrary to the spirit of our constitution, and an utterly irresponsible thing to do or propose.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the two servicemen killed in Afghanistan on 1 July — Corporal Peter Thorpe and Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi. Lance Corporal Hashmi’s family said yesterday that he was proud to serve in the British Army, and that you can be proud to be both Muslim and British. The family is right and the extremists who seek to divide us are wrong.

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The British troops in Afghanistan have our full support. Preventing that country from becoming again a rogue state that backs terror is, inevitably, a complex mission. It means supporting the Afghan Government in a range of tasks and confronting the Taliban. Major General Peter Wall has said that resistance has been “more virulent” than had been anticipated. Can the Prime Minister confirm that that is the case?

The Prime Minister: Yes, it is clear that the Taliban will fight hard, particularly in the south of the country, to regain their foothold and turn Afghanistan back into a failed state where al-Qaeda had its headquarters and the people were brutally oppressed by a regime that was not just bloody in what it did to its own people but in what it exported to the rest of the world. So, yes, they will fight hard, and the mission of the British forces is absolutely clear, as is the mission of the other forces, for example, Germany and Italy in the north and west of the country: it is to support the Afghan Government centrally and locally so that they can reconstruct their country and so that what the Afghans voted for—a stable, prosperous, democratic, tolerant society—can come about.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister said yesterday that to date he had received no requests for reinforcements. Does that statement cover equipment, including helicopter lift capacity? What discussions has he had with our NATO allies, so that should further combat troops or equipment be required our allies will also make an increased contribution?

The Prime Minister: We have not at the present time received a request from the commanders on the ground for more resources, either for logistics or for troops, but of course they will look carefully, now that we are in Helmand province, at what we need. As I indicated yesterday, if they need more, we will make sure that they get more. In the end, it is important to realise that the operational plans are drawn up and implemented by the commanders on the ground, which is how it should be, but if they desire more from us, of course, we will make sure that we give them every support.

I just want to make it clear that the British troops who are there are doing the most extraordinary and heroic job. They are fighting a battle that is important not just for the security of Afghanistan but for the security of the wider world. It is absolutely right that we give them every support, and we will do so. Sadly, we have lost troops in Afghanistan, and so have many other countries, including Germany, Italy and Spain. It is important to realise that when they give their lives in the service of our country they do so in support of a mission that is absolutely necessary and vital to our security in this country.

Mr. Cameron: At the heart of the whole mission is the reconstruction of Afghanistan. There are many different people involved, including the Afghan Government, the aid agencies and the UN. Last week, the shadow Foreign Secretary suggested appointing a special representative mandated by the UN and approved by the Afghan Government to help to bring those efforts together. The Minister for Europe said that that was “a sensible suggestion”, and I wonder whether the Prime Minister has given further consideration to the proposal to ensure good co-ordination on the ground.

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The Prime Minister: I have not given consideration to it myself, but no doubt we will do so, and if it is sensible we will do it. The most important thing is to try to back the efforts of the Afghan Government to build up their own police and army and make sure that their economy, which the Taliban effectively turned into a narco economy, is reconstructed on a basis that does not depend on the drugs trade. That is a very difficult mission, for which we have lead responsibility in the whole of Afghanistan.

That is important, too, for other countries. In the south of the country, we have about 3,600 troops at the moment, and there are about 6,000 troops from other countries. That is a NATO and United Nations mission, and it is important that the international community realise that it is not just about the British and American effort but about the united effort of the international community. We have to stay the course. Whether it is in Afghanistan, where we are supporting efforts at democracy—millions of Afghans came out and decided that they wanted a democracy—or in Iraq, our job is to stand alongside our allies, fighting the terrorists and fighting for democracy.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): Given the disappointing failure of last weekend’s world trade talks, will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that he will use his best endeavours to ensure that western leaders live up to their promises to provide a fairer trade deal for the world’s poor?

The Prime Minister: I shall do my level best. There are two aspects to the issue. First, we must make sure that we secure a proper development package, including aid for trade, which is important for the poorest countries so that they have the capacity to trade properly if markets are opened up. In addition, we will try, even at this late hour—and it is very late indeed—to make sure that the other countries come together and support us in trying to ensure that we do not just have freer markets in Europe, the United States and Japan but freer non-agricultural market access in the G20 countries, including Brazil and India. However, it is very, very late in the day to secure an agreement, and the next couple of weeks will be critical, particularly in the run-up to the G8 conference.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): May I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of condolence and sympathy from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

On 1 March the Prime Minister told me that he did not believe that the arrangements for the extradition of United Kingdom citizens to the United States were unfair. Does he still believe that?

The Prime Minister: I do believe that the arrangements are not unfair, for the reason that I can give the right hon. and learned Gentleman, although I totally understand the concern of the individuals who are to be extradited and their families as to what may happen, particularly in terms of bail, when they get to the United States. I will say more about that in a moment. What is important to realise is that the changes that we made a few years ago ended a situation
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where the United States was uniquely, to its detriment, not given the same arrangements as other countries. The purpose of the change— [Interruption.] Listen to the facts. The purpose of the change was to bring the United States into line not merely with European countries, but with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. That was the purpose of the change, but I totally understand the concern about bail arrangements and other matters.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Once cannot but observe, what about the principle of reciprocity? What could be more unfair than for a British citizen to be extradited to the United States without a prima facie case and under a treaty that the United States declines to ratify? Will the Prime Minister act to bring an end to this practice?

The Prime Minister: If I may again deal with the reciprocal arrangements, it is not true that the United States has a different evidential burden from this country. The probable cause, which is the burden that the United States places on countries that want to extradite from the United States, is analogous to what we now provide under the Extradition Act 2003. It is not correct to say that the United States has been given preferential treatment or that the arrangements in respect of evidence are not reciprocal. However, I do understand the real concern that the families will have about what happens when they go to the United States, and I have asked our officials to see whether there is any support or assurances that we can give so that if they are extradited, they are given the opportunity to be bailed.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware of the scourge of human trafficking, which has brought several thousand young girls to work as sex slaves in massage parlours and brothels in the UK. There is a Council of Europe convention on the matter, which 26 members of the Council of Europe have signed. Britain, alas, is not one of them. An all-party group of MPs is working on this. I do not ask the Prime Minister to agree at the Dispatch Box today to sign the convention, although that would be very welcome to Amnesty International, the Anti-Slavery Association and others working in the field. If he cannot do that, will he agree to meet an all-party group, who will try to persuade him that the Home Office officials resisting the convention are wrong and the new Home Office team should sign it forthwith?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend and any such delegation to discuss the issue.

Q2. [82383] Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Everyone recognises the extra money that has been spent on the NHS, so why is Musgrove Park hospital in Taunton struggling with a £6 million deficit? Why does it have to close the Alfred Morris centre, which gives specialist treatment to people with severe head injuries, and why do people from my constituency still have to travel 100 miles to Bristol and back to receive cancer treatment?

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