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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Defence Ministers on a range of issues, including the current and future use of RAF St. Athan.
Mr. Dunne: What assurances has the Secretary of State received from his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence that enabled him to say with such confidence on BBC Radio Wales on 27 October that thousands of jobs will be brought in? Has he done some shoddy backroom deal to shore up vulnerable Labour seats for the Welsh Assembly elections?
Nick Ainger: Everyone knows that whichever bid for the defence training academy is successful, it will bring in thousands of jobs. That is what my right hon. Friend was saying. Whoever wins the bid will have a superb opportunity to give a massive boost to their local economy. But it is important that the proper due process be undertaken openly and transparently, so the Ministry of Defence has properly subjected the bids to a rigorous and impartial evaluation process, overseen by an independent auditor. I am confident that when the final decision is made, it will be based on merit and value for the taxpayerand may the best bid win.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): If the consortium led by Qinetiq is successful in bringing those jobs to St. Athan, will the Minister hold consultations with his colleagues in the Welsh Assembly to ensure that there is transport to enable people who live in the more deprived valleys to take advantage of the opportunities that will become available to them?
Nick Ainger: Yes, the Assembly is looking at that, and if the St. Athan bid is successful, infrastructure issues will clearly have to be addressed, which will have a direct benefit for those valley communities.
Mrs. Moon: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Eighty families in my constituency have benefited from loans of up to £400 and £500, thanks to Valleys to Coast Housings giving a £15,000 interest-free loan to the credit union. Some 139 new members have now joined the credit union, and Peter Morgan estate agents is also raising money and collecting gifts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is quite a contrast with the parsimony of HBOS and the Farepak directors, who took savers money to save their champagne lifestyles?
Mr. Hain: I agree with the point that my hon. Friend makes. What has happened to Farepak customers is absolutely scandalous, and HBOS should ensure that it donates to the Farepak response fund. It has only six hours left to do so, so let it get on with it.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the statement issued by unfarepak.co.uka network of young mums, 90 per cent. of whom are on low incomes, who are calling for a boycott of HBOS? Does he agree that HBOS does indeed have six hours to pay into the response fund more than the £2 million in interest that it made from Farepak, or accept the consequences?
Mr. Hain: All Members of this House will echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to her and to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) for the tireless way in which they targeted HBOS, ensured that the Farepak scandal was brought to the publics attention, and ensured that attempts were made to resolve the situation and to fill the funding gap that was so scandalously left.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): There are two: on the English side, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Marine Fisheries Agency; and on the Welsh side, the Environment Agency.
Ben Chapman: The Dee estuarya specially protected area, a site of special scientific interest several times over, and a Ramsar siteis one of the most highly protected areas in Europe. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the balance between industry and the environment needs to be co-ordinated by a strategic body, rather than by the 80-odd agenciesadministrative bodies, local authorities, planning agencies and various other types of agencythat are said to be involved at the moment?
I understand my hon. Friends point, but I can reassure him that although up to 80 other organisations have an interest in the Dee estuarys management, from an administrative point of view only the Marine Fisheries Agency and the Environment Agency are involved. I can offer my hon.
Friend some hope. Through the White Paper that we will publish shortly, and the marine Bill that we intend to introduce in the next parliamentary Session, we hope to see the consolidation of marine management in places such as the Dee estuary.
Mr. Crabb: The Secretary of State will share the sense of shock felt by many in Pembrokeshire at the fatal stabbing last week of Lance Corporal Kinnon Ragni outside a Haverfordwest nightclub. He may also be aware that the Dyfed-Powys police authority has been unable to take up the offer of accelerated funding from the Home Office for new community support officers from 2008 because of serious concerns about a funding shortfall. Will the Secretary of State sit down with the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety and ensure that this issue is resolved, because more than ever, my constituents need some reassurance and action on crime and community safety?
Mr. Hain: I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning that evil attack. For reasons that are a matter for the chief constable of Dyfed-Powyshe has other policing prioritieshe has decided not to draw down the extra funding for community support officers. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that crime doubled under the Conservatives and police numbers fell every year from 1993. Under Labour in Wales, we have had more CSOs than ever before270, rising to 700 next yearand 1,000 extra police officers, 157 of whom are in the hon. Gentlemans Dyfed-Powys authority. That is a very good record on policing from Labour in Wales.
Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): As the Secretary of State will know, Cardiff is one of the areas piloting the 101 non-emergency number alongside 999. Following recent news that the roll-out of the programme is being delayed, supposedly because of cost, does he agree that if the Welsh police forces had not been forced to waste £900,000 on the abandoned police force merger, the money could have been used instead to roll out 101 in support of community policing across Wales?
Mr. Hain: The 101 facility is important and the hon. Lady is right to raise it, but I remind her that there has been a massive increase in funding for Welsh police forces under this Government, including 1,000 extra police officers and 270 extra community support officers, rising to 700 next year, to the benefit of her constituency and every other constituency in Wales. It is under Labour that policing has been supported in Wales and she should welcome that.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Riga at the NATO summit. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who is accompanying the Prime Minister, will make a statement to the House tomorrow.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear on several occasions that any contact with injured soldiers is a private matter and should remain so. In addition, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Hollingsworth, who was killed in Iraq last Friday. The whole House will be very proud of and grateful for the difficult and dangerous job he and others were doing on behalf of this country.
Mr. Harper: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that reply and my colleagues and I join him in sending our condolences to Sergeant Hollingsworths family. The Prime Minister has refused to answer my question when I have tabled it in writing. Indeed, it is extraordinary the lengths to which he will go to avoid answering it on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State for Defence is prepared to answer the question, not about individual soldiers, but about when and where he has visited them. Why will not the Prime Minister be as open and frank as the Secretary of State for Defence? What has the Prime Minister got to hide?
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I join the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in paying tribute to Sergeant Jonathan Hollingsworth and sending our deepest condolences to his family.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I returned from Baghdad this morning, having visited injured soldiers in Basra. We returned full of admiration for the incredible robustness and courage of our troops. It is clear that the situation they face is not getting any easier, with tens of thousands of roadside bombs this year and increasing sectarian violence. Will the Deputy Prime Minister spell out how the Government will encourage the Iraqi Government urgently to achieve an internal political settlement in Iraq?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
The House will be pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has visited our troops, who are working in the most difficult circumstances. We all wish to express our appreciation of the bravery of their operations. However, from the
right hon. Gentlemans discussions with our troops, they will have made it clear that we are working hard with the Iraqi Government and the authorities to bring about a peaceful solution to the situation in Basra.
Mr. Hague: The politicians we met in Baghdad were adamant that only through a rapid improvement in the security situation could anything else be achieved. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that any future internal agreement could be reinforced by the early creation of an international contact group, formed initially by members of the United Nations Security Council and some neighbouring states? Is that something that the Government would support and recommend to the US Administration?
The Deputy Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has mentioned to the House on several occasions that he would like to encourage neighbouring countries to participate in such agreements. It is not easy: it is difficult. Some of those countries are playing a difficult role and encouraging the assaults and injuries that are taking place, and they could do much more to prevent them. If the right hon. Gentlemans discussions with those people are encouraging such developments, I am sure that we would welcome them.
Mr. Hague: Finally on Iraq, the Secretary of State for Defence said on Monday that he expected that British forces there would be reduced by a matter of thousands by the end of next year. Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House whether that will depend on the security situation? If so, by what criteria will the security situation be judged?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman will know from his discussions while he was in Iraq, we have made it clear that security is the most important consideration there. We are negotiating to ensure that a stable situation is achieved by military and police forces, and it is not our intention to withdraw from the country entirely. We will continue to give our support, but he will know from his discussions that a lot of good work has been done. We have achieved some stability in the area, and will continue our efforts to that end.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that carers, whose earnings are limited because they have to look after people who are elderly, disabled or terminally ill, lose all of their £46 carers allowance if their earnings rise even marginally above £84 a week? Is he further aware that the latest increase in the minimum wage has put many carers in just that position, and that those people are now thousands of pounds a year worse off? Does he agree that the minimum wage was never intended to cause that problem, and will he look into it as a matter of urgency, so that carers are given a fair deal?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
This Government can claim to be concerned about giving carers a fair deal, as we were the first to introduce a payment for them. The minimum wage has played an important part, but my hon. Friend refers to the difficulties experienced by
people on the margins. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will take note of what he has said and that the matter will be discussed further.
Can the Deputy Prime Minister help us to interpret the comments made to regional journalists by the Prime Minister on Monday? He said that people in the north should worry less about the north-south divide and regional inequalities, even though evidence from the Treasury suggests that regional inequalities in growth remain as significant as ever.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am not so sure that the hon. Gentlemans analysis is correct. I recognise that he spends an awful lot of time looking at economic data, but the latest report that I have seen[Hon. Members: We cant hear.] I am sorry. I was just recognising the hon. Gentlemans ability to contribute a great deal of information to our economic debates. However, the latest analysis that I have seen suggests that the differential between north and south has been reduced, thanks to work of the regional development agencies [Interruption.] I appreciate that the RDAs were opposed by the Opposition, but they have played their part in a very successful economic policy that has led to a narrowing of the gap between north and south.
Dr. Cable: I have the benefit of the Prime Ministers comments, as well as of the pithy summary by the Daily MirrorBlair Raps Northern Moaners. I think that he was trying to make the more subtle point that it is the differences within regions that really matter, rather than the differences between them. On that measure, can the Deputy Prime Minister explain how income and wealth inequalities have become worse under a Labour Government than they were after 17 years of Tory Government?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there are 2.5 million more people in work now, that the differential has been reduced, and that everyone is enjoying a considerably better standard of living than was the case when we came to power in 1997. The hon. Gentleman has expressed different views about these matters at different times. I have been doing some research into his record, and have discovered that both his arguments and his politics have moved about a bit. He stood for Labour in Glasgow in 1970, for the Social Democratic party in York in 1983, and for the Liberal Democrats in Twickenham in 1992. With such nimble feet, it is no wonder that he lists ballroom dancing as a hobby.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Ministers recent statement on slavery has been widely welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister support an international remembrance day for slavery and does he back the new Liverpool slavery museum, which looks at the implications of slavery at present and in the future as well as at slavery in the past?
The Deputy Prime Minister: It is a very important occasion. As we approach 2007, the House should commemorate the piece of legislation that abolished slavery. We are all proud that the House was able to do that 200 years ago, but slavery has not gone away; trafficking and modern slavery are very much with us, as has been said from time to time, and I certainly support what my hon. Friend said about Liverpool. The commemoration is not only national; it is also international. Indeed, today I am going to New York to talk with the UN Secretary-General about yesterdays resolution and about how we can make the commemoration international. It is not only about slavery 200 years ago; we have to stop the terrible trade in modern slavery. I am delighted that the man who moved that legislation 200 years ago was the MP for Hull.
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