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House of Commons

Wednesday 19 July 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—


1. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Which casinos he has visited in the course of his ministerial duties since 1 May 1997. [86189]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): On 28 November 2004, I was in Sydney on official business to discuss the legacy of the Olympic games and the regeneration of the former Olympic sites. I visited the Star City casino, which is part of a major waterfront regeneration scheme in the city that I discussed with the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr. I was accompanied by a number of officials, including my permanent secretary and the chief executive of English Partnerships. I have not visited any other casinos.

Mr. Hands: By giving such privileged access to one of the bidders, has not the Deputy Prime Minister seriously compromised the whole process of bidding for Britain’s only regional casino?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman has been reading too many press cuttings. Let us be clear, as I have been: I was not associated in any way with the planning or sale of the dome. The decisions were made in the Department by other Ministers, and I informed the House about them. As for my meeting with Mr. Anschutz, I promised when I first met him that we would meet regularly to ensure that he was fulfilling the obligations involved in the development of the dome—which meant 10,000 new homes, 24,000 jobs and £5 billion of private investment. I am quite prepared to meet people who provide jobs and investment of that kind, and it was quite right.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister rightly says that he had no influence in relation to the dome and the establishment of a casino there, but may I ask him to use his influence in relation to the one casino for this country? May I ask him to support the siting of the casino in Lancashire, where it will regenerate the area and bring many thousands of jobs? Such an establishment is greatly needed in Lancashire.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I understand why my hon. Friend advocates placing a casino in Lancashire, but I assure him that I am not involved in any such decisions. The House decided that there would be an independent commission to decide how many casinos there should be and where they should be placed. The commission will report to the Secretary of State, who will come here and present recommendations to the House. Every Member will then be able to make his or her own decision on which recommendation to support. That is what the House decided, and every one of us will be involved in the subsequent decision.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): During his various discussions with Mr. Anschutz and the Attorney-General, was the Deputy Prime Minister aware that the potential value of a dome casino licence was about £250 million? In view of the large sums involved, was his primary duty to avoid discussing the matter because of conflicts of interest, or to discuss it in order to secure a better deal on the dome site?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I was not involved in any discussions with Mr. Anschutz about the casino. As for the amount and the value, I saw in Australia that there are major regeneration benefits—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) has referred—but I have not been involved in any decisions on the casino, and I think that my action was right and proper.

2. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): What role he has in the effective development of Government policy on planning in relation to gambling facilities. [86190]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): As a Minister, I have no specific role in relation to gambling or planning, but as a parliamentarian I have exactly the same say as Opposition Members, because—as I have explained—in this House Members will have the final say on the location of any casinos. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for gambling policy, and the Department for Communities and Local Government is responsible for planning policy.

Michael Gove: Given the responsibilities that the Deputy Prime Minister used to exercise in the office of Deputy Prime Minister, will he take legal advice on whether he is in breach of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916 and report back to the House, in the light of that Act’s provisions, on how Government lawyers view his receipt of gifts and hospitality from Mr. Philip Anschutz?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is typical of the wild charges that the hon. Gentleman used to make when he wrote his articles in The Times. Let me make it clear that I do not believe that any act of corruption has been committed. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence he should provide it, rather than just making the allegations here.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister is a man of influence within Government. Will he take it from me that there is deep concern about the impact of gambling on indebtedness, which is increasing in this country? Will he ensure that all individuals and organisations making a bid for regional gambling centres are organisations and individuals of the very highest integrity?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is well aware that in discussions on the Gambling Bill—there was also pre-legislative scrutiny—a lot of consultation and debate took place, as the legislation was controversial. All views were expressed in the House, which finally came to a decision. I think that that decision was right and we must wait and see how it develops.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am not an enthusiast for gambling, grand casinos or anything of that kind, as I have made clear previously, but is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour Members totally reject all the innuendos to the effect that he is somehow corrupt or dishonest? Whatever mistakes may have been made here or there, we know about the great contribution that he has made to the Government and to the Labour party and movement over many years.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support, though I do not expect it from Conservative Members. However, when it comes to accusations of corruption, Members must make a serious judgment. There is no corruption here and those charges should not be thrown around lightly in the House—however easily done in the press. I totally reject that and I hope that people will take my contribution over 35 years in Parliament into account, whether or not they agree with what I have done. I might add that over those 35 years I have never been employed in any other job; I have never received any payment from other bodies; I have simply carried out my job as a Member of Parliament. Can they say that on the other side of the Chamber?

chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Children in Care

3. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What progress has been made in developing a coherent strategy for alleviating the social exclusion likely to be suffered by children in care. [86191]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): The Government have made tackling social exclusion in respect of children in care a priority and have improved standards for fostering services and children’s care homes, put new duties on local authorities to promote the education of looked-after children and strengthened the rights and financial support for those leaving care.

We are also publishing our social exclusion action plan in the autumn, which will frame our cross-government approach to tackling the social exclusion of vulnerable groups, including looked-after children. The action plan will closely co-ordinate with the forthcoming Department for Education and Skills consultation on proposals to transform the outcomes of looked-after children, with all of those issues considered in the light of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

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Mr. David: I thank the Minister for her reply, but will she tell the House whether there has been any attempt to study examples of good practice from other European countries?

Hilary Armstrong: Yes. On appointment, I looked into various examples of good practice elsewhere and I was particularly impressed with what looked like very good outcomes in Germany and Denmark. I visited Germany two weeks ago and found that there, as in many other European countries, children’s work force professionals—called social pedagogues—commonly look after children living away from home. The principles that they use to educate, challenge and engage with children seem extremely valuable and effective. The approach is focused on emphasising each child’s individual potential in a holistic way, involving education in health and overall child development. We will look very carefully to establish whether we can incorporate such principles in our children’s services.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that there are approximately 44,000 looked-after children in this country and that only about 8 per cent. currently obtain five A to C grade GCSEs and a mere 1 per cent. secure access to university, what discussions has the Minister had with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about the need to ensure that most vulnerable children are granted a legal entitlement to personalised learning?

Hilary Armstrong: That is an issue that we all take extremely seriously. I have had discussions with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills. Actually, the figures suggest that about 11 per cent. now gain five GCSEs. I accept that that is not good enough, but it is more than double the number in 1997. We are not satisfied and we want to do whatever we can to enhance learning and opportunities for looked-after children. Both I and the DFES are looking into that matter extremely carefully at the moment.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): May I tell my right hon. Friend that in the London borough of Ealing, which for 12 years enjoyed the wise and sagacious leadership of a Labour council and is now temporarily in the hands of the Tories, 10 per cent. of the looked-after children go on to university—the highest level anywhere in England and Wales? May I invite her to visit Ealing, despite its current political complexion, to see how we have achieved that excellent result?

Hilary Armstrong: I congratulate Ealing, and I am sure that my hon. Friend has been keeping his eye on what has been going on and ensuring that, indeed, best practice is implemented. He understands that we are looking at tackling social exclusion very much by learning from what is working best, so I will be delighted to join him in looking at Ealing’s success.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Is the Minister aware of the activities of some private providers—noticeably, Greencorns—that move children around the country and provide homes not close to their family ties? When those children get into trouble, as they often do, they do not get the support that they need to help them.

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Hilary Armstrong: I am concerned about too much movement of looked-after children. We are concerned to ensure not only that they have a stable experience, but that we do as much as possible to encourage contact with their own families. So I will take into account what the hon. Gentleman has said in relation to my discussions with the DFES and the proposals that it will produce later this year.

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Climate Change

4. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): When he last met representatives of the Chinese Government to discuss climate change. [86192]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): During my visit to China in February this year, I discussed China’s engagement on climate change and sustainable development with Premier Wen and other senior members of the Chinese Government, including State Councillor Tang. Together, we chair the UK-China taskforce. I also held discussions with Mayor Han of Shanghai to discuss the Dontang eco-city project, which is a new concept in building sustainable cities in which British companies are involved.

The UK is leading the way internationally on city regeneration and sustainability, proving that it is possible to support jobs and economic growth in an environmentally responsible way. We are now sharing that knowledge and enterprise with other countries.

Paddy Tipping: With the Chinese economy growing by 13 per cent. a year and reports that a new coal-fired power station is being opened every fortnight in China, it is a major source of carbon pollution. How confident is the Deputy Prime Minister about involving China in a successful outcome post-Kyoto?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have absolutely no doubt that China is a pretty active player in the desire to get a climate change programme, and the Prime Minister’s effort at the G8 to include China and India is a major step forward in achieving an agreement that was not readily available to involve China and India in the Kyoto agreement. So I am absolutely convinced of that, and my hon. Friend will know that I discussed the issue on my last visit, last February, but he may also like to know that I opened the Ningbo campus of Nottingham university, which is a very important part of the education contacts between our two countries and, indeed, deals effectively with climate change studies, too.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Why does the Deputy Prime Minister feel he could give useful advice about Kyoto to the Chinese, given his own failed environmental policies at home: his failed pledge to ensure that fewer car journeys take place, his failed integrated transport system, and his Strategic Rail Authority that was so bad that it was immediately scrapped by his successor? Everything that he does goes wrong. Does not China deserve better?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: Good comment; no truth. In reality, I made a successful contribution to Kyoto: we did get an agreement. On the environmental targets, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that we are the only country in Europe to achieve double the target level in the reduction of greenhouse gases. No other country in Europe has been able to achieve that. If I look at the Opposition’s environmental and transport policies, although I am not sure what they are at the moment, I think that rail privatisation has been rejected. The 10-year plan that I introduced is being continued. More people are travelling on public transport than ever before. That sounds like success, not failure.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that despite the chaff from the Opposition, his well known and highly regarded leadership internationally on this issue is well respected? Does he also accept that if he can advise China on how to achieve a balance between economic growth and sustainable environmental policies, it would be a major step forward and one that Labour Members would really appreciate?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Anyone who has experience of travelling abroad, as the deputy Leader of the Opposition has, will be aware that one of things that is admired about Britain is that we have been able to achieve economic growth in a sustainable way, while at the same time achieving our climate targets. There are very few countries that have achieved that, and it is because of the success of this Labour Government’s policies.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): When the Deputy Prime Minister met his Chinese opposite number, did he advocate adoption of the concept of contraction and convergence? What is his view of that concept?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I did not understand the question.


5. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Department for Communities and Local Government in relation to casino bids. [86193]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): None.

James Duddridge: How can the Deputy Prime Minister not have had any discussions, given that Office of the Deputy Prime Minister civil servants, attending a Thames Gateway meeting in February, stated that Ministers would appreciate some joined-up thinking and would like a single bid for the Thames Gateway? Are those the same ODPM officials who received briefings from the Deputy Prime Minister following his meeting with the dome’s owner?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has made accusations in the press and in the Chamber about the feeling in his constituency about whether we interfered with its application for a casino. The former Tory mayor said that we had: the present Tory mayor has made it clear that that was not true—

James Duddridge: It was not the mayor.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I shall quote what the Tory leader of Southend says— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) cannot shout after he has asked his question. He may not be happy with the answer, but he should not shout.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The Tory leader in Southend said:

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