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Defence Bases

7. Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on spending on defence bases in Wales. [127780]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mrs. Moon: The development of the St. Athan defence training establishment brings great potential to my Bridgend constituency. Will my right hon. Friend agree to hold discussions with the First Minister to ensure that an appropriate skills base is developed at Bridgend college, so that such employment opportunities can be grabbed by my constituents? [Interruption.]

Mr. Hain: Yes, I will happily do so. As a result of the excellent programme that Welsh Labour has drawn up for the next Assembly Government, new skills academies will provide key industries, including the St. Athan project, with access to excellence in training and learning. My hon. Friend can maximise the potential of local further education and training opportunities in her constituency by working with the Welsh Assembly Government, and I am happy to help facilitate that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask hon. Members to come to order. This is not fair to those who wish to participate in Wales questions.


8. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What recent meetings he has had with ministerial colleagues and others on the number of people using the railways in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [127781]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet ministerial colleagues and others to discuss issues affecting Wales, including rail services. There has been a very encouraging rise in rail use over recent years. There are now more than 1 billion passenger journeys every year throughout the UK—a 35 per cent. increase on the 1995-96 figure.

Albert Owen: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Labour’s extra investment in north Wales has resulted in improved services and increased demand. However, he will be aware of Virgin Trains’ plan to replace the Pendolino trains with Super Voyagers post-2008. Will he agree to meet me and a small delegation to discuss this issue in detail, to ensure that we get the improved services on board that such demand requires?

Nick Ainger: Yes, I am more than happy to meet a delegation led by my hon. Friend. As he says, Virgin is replacing the Pendolino carriages on the north Wales route with the more reliable Voyager trains. Although the Voyager carriages have fewer seats, there will be no decrease in service because there will be more trains and therefore more seats, and a better service. I know that he met Virgin recently to discuss these matters, and I understand that a follow-up meeting has been arranged for a few months, but as I said, I will certainly meet him and his delegation to discuss these matters.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Notwithstanding the rosy picture that the Minister has painted, does he agree that there are particular problems on the mid-Wales and Cambrian coastline lines, and will he convey to the Assembly Government and his ministerial colleagues the concerns of many of my constituents about a service characterised by clapped-out rolling stock, overcrowded trains and missed connections? That is the reality of train use in mid-Wales.

Nick Ainger: While I understand that there are problems throughout the rail network, the issue is one of demand and supply. We are seeing a rapid increase in rail use and the rail companies are lagging behind with their investment. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have announced a further 1,000 carriages over the next few years, and the Welsh Assembly Government are putting in a further £1. 6 million to reduce overcrowding on the Cambrian main line. I am sure that he will see an improvement in the near future.

Defence Industry

9. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): How many jobs in Wales he estimates depend on the defence industry. [127782]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Around 6,000 people are employed either directly by the Ministry of Defence or as a result of MOD direct equipment and non-equipment expenditure in Wales. Figures for indirect employment are not available.

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Chris Bryant: Wales may represent only 4.5 per cent. of the British population, but we provide 9 per cent. of the British armed forces. In addition to the figures that the Secretary of State announced just now, we will get another 5,500 jobs in St. Athan, thanks to the new contract that we have just won for Wales. Should not we in Wales be proud of our contribution to the British armed forces, rather than try to get them thrown out of their bases in Wales, as some people in Plaid Cymru would like?

Mr. Hain: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The St. Athan project, and all the defence investment in Wales that is of such benefit to jobs and the Welsh economy, comes as a result of the strong partnership between Westminster and Wales, between our Labour Government here and the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff Bay. It is as a result of that partnership that we will continue to build a strong Welsh economy, unlike Plaid Cymru’s president, who wants all Army activity and defence investment, including training, removed from Wales.

Dee Estuary

10. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has held with the First Secretary on management of the Dee estuary. [127783]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with the First Minister to discuss a range of issues, including marine and environmental matters.

Ben Chapman: My hon. Friend will recognise that the Dee estuary is a globally important environmental site and that when in the late 1990s a decision was taken on dredging in the estuary it was done on the basis of a balance between economy and ecology. Can he assure me that when a new application comes in for further dredging, he will take a balanced view and consult all the agencies on it?

Nick Ainger: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for pressing this issue regularly. It is important that we do everything that we can to protect the Airbus jobs at Broughton on which thousands of people in North Wales and in constituencies such as his depend. I understand that the Welsh Assembly Government, the Environment Agency and the Marine Fisheries Agency met recently to agree a plan and timetable for consideration of new consents, and those will be required by August this year. They have been in contact with the Port of Mostyn throughout the duration of the existing consents, and the port has been apprised of the environmental reports that will be required in support of the new application.


11. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on promoting tourism transport links in south Wales. [127785]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Assembly Government colleagues about a range of matters. Encouraging visitors to use sustainable forms of transport is a key aim of the Assembly Government’s tourism and transport strategies.

Mrs. James: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House should allow the hon. Lady to be heard.

Mrs. James: When my hon. Friend next meets colleagues in the Assembly, could he make representations on the Swansea-Cork ferry? As he will be aware, it has recently been reintroduced as a lorry service, but given its role in supporting tourism in the city, the passenger ferry should be reintroduced as soon as possible.

Nick Ainger: I will meet Andrew Davies, the Minister with responsibility for such matters, next Monday. My hon. Friend is right: tourists spend more than £8 million a day on trips to Wales, and about 100,000 people in Wales—around 9 per cent. of the work force—are employed in tourism. The reintroduction of the new freight-only ferry is welcome, but I understand that Swansea Cork Ferries intends to resume a full passenger service when it has purchased a new vessel. However, I shall discuss those matters with Andrew Davies next week.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [128691] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 21st March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): 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.

Paul Rowen: Every year, approximately 33,000 pedestrians are killed or injured in road accidents, yet the Department for Transport has no idea how many accidents are caused by uninsured or disqualified drivers. For example, over a four-year period Sajjid Hussain from Rochdale—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Supplementary questions should be brief. I think that the Prime Minister will be able to answer.

The Prime Minister: How we deal with fatalities and injuries arising from road accidents is a very important matter. Over the past few years, the number of fatalities has fallen significantly, especially among children. That is a major achievement, but the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there are too many people without proper insurance on our roads.
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That is one reason why we are looking at ways to toughen the penalties for people who drive without insurance, and it is also why the police are able to make spot checks to discover who those drivers are.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is also First Lord of the Treasury, so may I ask him which of the following he finds preferable: a Chancellor of the Exchequer who follows policies imposed on him by Whitehall mandarins that drive us into the exchange rate mechanism and create economic havoc, or one who carries out Labour party policies that have created record employment levels and unparalleled prosperity for this country?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. Some people remember that, under the Conservatives, we had Black Wednesday, interest rates at 15 per cent., 3 million unemployed and an economy in recession. This Chancellor has delivered the longest period of economic growth in our history and we should be proud of that.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I do not know why the Home Secretary is smiling—he will soon be running a power station in Siberia.

The beating of Morgan Tsvangirai last week demonstrated the depths to which Zimbabwe has sunk under Robert Mugabe. Will the Prime Minister confirm what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday—that the Government will press the EU for an extension of sanctions against Zimbabwe? Specifically, what will he do to make sure that that happens?

The Prime Minister: We will press the EU to widen the political sanctions that were introduced in 2002 very much as a result of prompting by Britain. We will seek to extend the assets freeze and travel ban as far as we can, but it is also important that we take action in the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council. We will be urging partners in both those institutions to make strong statements against what is happening in Zimbabwe, because that is appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Cameron: I am grateful for that answer, but may I press the Prime Minister specifically on how the sanctions will be widened? Will he make sure that the scope of the assets freeze is widened, and that EU visas and residence permits for those on the EU sanctions list are cancelled? In addition, will he ensure that the governor of Zimbabwe’s central bank is added to the list? Crucially, will he also ensure that none of those people, including Mugabe, is invited to the EU-African Union summit later this year?

The Prime Minister: In respect of the summit, the very reason it has not taken place for a significant period of time has been problems over Zimbabwe. However, as well as extending sanctions on assets, the travel ban and so on, the most important thing is for us to make sure that other African countries, particularly in the neighbourhood of Zimbabwe, do everything they possibly can to make it clear that this is a disaster not just for the people of Zimbabwe but for the reputation of good governance in Africa.

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The right hon. Gentleman and I met the President of Ghana last week. Ghana is a country that has got on its feet, held democratic elections and is doing extremely well, giving an example of model governance to the rest of Africa. It will be tragic for the reputation of Africa if Zimbabwe is allowed to remain in the state it is in.

Mr. Cameron: Specifically on that point, will the Prime Minister be having further discussions with Thabo Mbeki on that vital issue? What does he think can be done throughout South Africa and across the whole international community to isolate that despotic regime and ensure that it is no longer able to bring desolation, poverty and tyranny to the people of Zimbabwe?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, we will do everything we can with the South African Government and others. In addition, the UK Government and therefore, through the Government’s financial support to people in Zimbabwe, the UK people have provided £140 million over the past five years to try to help the poorest people in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Government say that we are not prepared to help with land resettlement, but we have said that we will set aside a specific sum to help with the problem, provided that the money is routed through the UN Development Programme and not through the Zimbabwean Government.

Let us be clear, however. The solution to Zimbabwe, ultimately, will not come simply through pressure applied by Britain. Pressure has to be applied within Africa, in particular in the African Union, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will continue to do all we can to make sure that Africa realises that it is a responsibility for Africa as well as for the Zimbabwean Government.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent’s Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I am sure the whole House will unite in sending sympathy to the family of my constituent, Kodjo Yenga, who is yet another of the teenagers who have met a violent death on the streets of London in recent weeks. Is my right hon. Friend aware that far too many children and young people fear violence, crime and bullying on the streets, and even in our schools? Does he agree that although effective policing and strong deterrents for violent crime play a vital role, it is also crucial that we redouble our efforts to engage with our young people, to talk to them and invest in strategies that will deter them from violent crime and the gang culture?

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says. However, it is important to recognise that in London overall violent crime was down by more than 5 per cent. last year and gun crime was down by almost 14 per cent. In addition, we are taking new measures on knives and the use of knives under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It is also important to recognise that the problem is specific to specific cultures in specific of our inner cities, so we have to take very specific measures in respect, obviously, of the help and support we give young people, but also where families are dysfunctional and out of control and causing real problems to the whole of their neighbourhood. We shall outline some of those proposals in the coming weeks.

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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy from the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on behalf of her constituent.

Is the Prime Minister disappointed that after 10 years in government the gap in wealth between the rich and the poor in this country is greater than it was under Margaret Thatcher?

The Prime Minister: That is simply not correct. [ Interruption. ] No, it is not. It is absolutely correct that wealthy people have got wealthier, but it is also correct that the poorest have got wealthier, too. Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman how they have got wealthier. [Hon. Members: “The gap!”] I am sorry, he is absolutely wrong. Those at the bottom end have actually done extremely well over the last 10 years. Let me tell him why— [ Interruption. ] Tories shake their heads, but people have done well because of the minimum wage, which the Tories opposed. They have done well because of the tax credits, which the Tories opposed. They have done well because of extra child benefit, which the Tories opposed. I do not know whether the Lib Dems ever had policy positions on any of those things.

Let us be absolutely clear. The average family, particularly with children, has done better under this Government. We have not penalised high earners, but we have helped the lowest earners a great deal.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Will the Prime Minister engage with the argument? How can he possibly be satisfied when the poorest in this country pay a higher proportion of their income in taxation than the richest? How can that possibly be fair?

The Prime Minister: That is simply not correct. [ Interruption. ] No, it is not correct. As a result— [ Interruption. ] Sorry, but as a result of the measures that we have taken, families who are on the lowest incomes do not pay tax until far higher up the income scale than they used to. If we look at how the lowest earners are treated in this country, we see that it is infinitely better than 10 years ago. It now compares very well with other European countries. So as well as the Chancellor having delivered the highest employment rate, the lowest unemployment for 30 years, low interest rates, and the strongest economic growth, he has done a lot for income inequality too.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): In a diverse constituency such as Tooting, a good museum can be invaluable in teaching young people in a stimulating way about local history and local heritage. It can give young people a real sense of belonging. Despite a generous grant settlement, Wandsworth council is considering closing down Wandsworth museum. The council meets next week to make its final decision. What does the Prime Minister think about a local council risking community cohesion and choosing tax cuts over public services?

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