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Planning Policy

13. Mr. Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) (Lab): What recent progress he has made in the co-ordination of housing and planning policy across Government. [137239]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): I have chaired a Cabinet Committee that takes forward the development of planning policy for an interdepartmental planning reform White Paper, which will be published soon.

The White Paper examines planning as a whole, including for nationally significant infrastructure projects, responsibility for which is spread across various Departments. It will build on our planning reforms since 1997 in the light of recent reports by Kate Barker and Rod Eddington and deliver a planning system ready to meet the growing challenges that we face in the 21st century.

Mr. Malik: My right hon. Friend knows that carbon emissions per dwelling in the United Kingdom are six times greater than those in, for example, Sweden. What actions are the Government taking to ensure that we improve our record on that crucial matter?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We must accept that Sweden has done well. Indeed, it is one of two countries that is on target to meet its Kyoto targets. However, we will achieve double the Kyoto targets, which is not the position in Sweden. Between 1990 and now, Sweden has reduced carbon emissions by 4 per cent, while we have reduced them by 14 per cent. If the rest of the European countries copied the example of the UK and Sweden, we would be well on target to doing something serious about climate change.

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Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members representing the south-west are virtually unanimous in opposing the proposals of the regional unelected government to concentrate all the new houses that the Deputy Prime Minister wants to see built in existing urban areas, putting additional strain on the infrastructure of schools, hospitals, roads, public transport and sewage? On the other hand, is he aware that they would be in favour of distributing some of that housing in more rural areas where market towns and villages are under-using the infrastructure because they have been losing population?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I would certainly like to hear what the Tory party says in those rural areas about the hon. Gentleman’s wish to transfer all the urban to them. Looking across the faces on the Tory Benches, I see them shaking their heads—I suspect that they are in a bit of a difficulty with that proposal. In reality, people want to live in houses and they want to live in cities. We have designed them in order to achieve that. Even in the south-east, sons and daughters who want to live near their parents want their demands for houses to be met, rather than being told to go north, which would be unacceptable. We can organise matters in a way that will provide houses for all.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What progress has been made in linking housing development to improved public transport? Does my right hon. Friend support a revival of the plans for light rail in Liverpool?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The light transport developments of the past few years have been highly successful in encouraging people to use public transport, not their private cars. Manchester is a particular example. I know that there is a desire to see a light railway system in Liverpool, too. We have to recognise that they are expensive and different forms of financing have to be found. There have been some difficulties with one or two of the local authorities. That is why I am particularly pleased that in the Transport Act 2000, which I brought through the House, I included the principle of congestion charges and made it clear that the money gained from it should be hypothecated to improve public transport. I was particularly pleased to hear the mayor of New York say last week that he intended to bring in an environment charter for that city that included congestion charging and hypothecation of money to the public transport system. That is a way forward, which we have shown can be successful, and other countries are following us.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Home information packs originated in the right hon. Gentleman’s office, but they have been slammed by the Consumers Association as “useless”. The Government’s Better Regulation Commission has warned that their gold plating will lead to extra red tape. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors speaks of a detrimental effect on first-time buyers with rising prices, shortage of supply and abortive cuts. Will the right hon. Gentleman end this poisoned chalice and, in his co-ordination role, slap down this stupid proposal and agree to our motion on the Order Paper later today?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: No, I will not, and I think that the House will vote against that motion this evening, too. This proposal is an effective way of bringing better justice to house purchasing. People can be cheated out of housing simply because someone broke the agreement. That cannot happen in Scotland, but unfortunately it can happen here. The consumer groups have made it clear that they want this package—indeed, the hon. Gentleman well knows that they welcome it—but they feel that the agreement for the certification of the house has been taken out.

On carbon, let me just say to the hon. Gentleman that it is about getting a reduction of carbon in this country as part of our efforts to deal with climate change. We see the Tories telling us constantly that they believe in taking action against climate change on the one hand, but they then vote against any measure to improve the situation on the other.

Animal Rights Activists

14. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What steps he is taking to co-ordinate Government policy on animal rights activists and schools. [137240]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): I chair the Cabinet Committee that co-ordinates the Government’s strategy to tackle animal rights extremism. The Government are committed to tackling extremists who harass or threaten those involved in vital, life-saving scientific research. Our strategy is making a difference, as 25 individuals have received custodial sentences and the number of visits by extremists to private homes is down to fewer than five a month. I wrote recently to the police national co-ordinator for domestic extremism to congratulate him.

Dr. Harris: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. Given that it is both Government and Opposition policy to support well regulated animal research, does he agree that it is vital to win the battle for the hearts and minds of young people, who should be exposed to arguments that are at least balanced? Given that there is underfunding of some of the non-governmental organisations working in this area in comparison with the anti-vivisection organisations, could he look further into the co-ordination and funding of efforts in schools to put balanced arguments about animal research?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a sound point and I congratulate him on the courage that he has shown in tackling animal rights extremism. His views on that issue are well known in the House. In the Cabinet Committee, we have been discussing how we can do more to continue the education in schools about such extremism. We are working to provide materials for teachers to help them to approach these topical issues in the classroom. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is leading work to provide training for teachers through a national network of science learning centres and the Government are also funding the production of a DVD of the play “Every Breath”,
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which addresses animal rights issues, for distribution to teachers. The forces involved in apprehending the extremists have done an excellent job and that is why I wrote to express that view on behalf of the Committee, although I am sure that I was writing on behalf of the whole House.


15. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): What steps are being taken by the UK Government to support sustainable development in China. [137241]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): Last month I met State Councillor Tang and Premier Wen in Beijing. I put to them a proposal to strengthen co-operation between the United Kingdom and China on sustainability, which has been an important focus of the China taskforce which I have chaired since 2003. In China, Premier Wen has highlighted the need for a new model of sustainability, including greater efforts to save energy, reduce consumption and protect the environment. The 11th five-year plan contained ambitious targets on energy and promoting sustainable development, including energy efficiency improvements of 20 per cent. by 2010. The Chinese are keen to step up exchanges with the UK to help them to develop sustainable communities, and they see both the Thames Gateway and the UK-designed eco-city at Dongtan as key examples.

Laura Moffatt: I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts to share information about making our cities sustainable and to use that work as an example to other cities. I hope that he will continue with that work during his remaining time as Deputy Prime Minister. He will be sadly missed.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is a lovely day—I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. The work that we are doing with China to develop new principles for sustainable cities is among the important developments that I hope we can all support. China will transfer about 15 million people from rural areas to urban areas every year, and that will require about 1,000 more cities, which will create a tremendous demand for energy. Britain’s skilled architects and planners can demonstrate the sustainable new model necessary to reduce the impact on the environment and improve the quality of our cities for the benefit of all.



Q1. [137247] Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 16 May.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): I have been asked to reply. As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Washington today for discussions with President Bush ahead of the G8 summit in June. Later today, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) and I will meet members of the family of Madeleine
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McCann, at their request. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with them at this terrible time.

Mr. Spring: I endorse the sentiments about the tragic situation in Portugal that the Deputy Prime Minister has just expressed.

May I quote two statements to the right hon. Gentleman? The first is from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and future Prime Minister, who said:

The second is from the Deputy Prime Minister himself:

Who was right?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It was another terrible Tory mess that we inherited. I was supportive of the strategic necessity of building the Jubilee line under the previous Administration, as that was the right decision. It was also absolutely right to pay £350 million to bring back into use that poisonous bit of land in the middle of London. The target of 12 million people attending the dome was set before we came into office. I disputed that at the time, but 7 million did attend, and 98 per cent. thought it was a good exhibition. I think that they were right, and I am not apologising for that.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recall that on Friday 2 March more than 100 Labour Members were in the House to make sure that the Temporary and Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill was heard? As of today, 120 colleagues have signed early-day motion 1299 to urge progress on measures to end unfair discrimination against agency workers. In his remaining weeks in office, will my right hon. Friend look at that, try to get some progress on what was a promise at Warwick before the last election, and continue his decades-long fight for ordinary working people and hard-working families?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): May I begin by echoing what the Deputy Prime Minister said about Madeleine McCann, her family and their terrible worries at this time? In all parts of the House, and throughout the nation, people will be praying for the safe return of that little girl.

The Deputy Prime Minister has just been told, following the announcement of his resignation, that he will be missed on his side. He can be sure that he will be even more missed on our side. Seriously, although we have disagreed with many of his policies and exchanged many harsh words, he has so far served 37 years in the House and 10 years as Deputy Prime Minister, and by any standards that counts as an achievement. We wish him well in his retirement,

However, he is still the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the Government should admit mistakes—although the Deputy Prime Minister has just disagreed with the one that the Chancellor put at the top of the list. In the spirit of admitting mistakes, does he agree that the
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junior doctor recruitment process has been, by the standards of any Government, a truly shocking piece of incompetence?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is so nice, after 37 years, to know that I will be missed—but I am not leaving the House yet, and I will still play my part. I will not be whingeing on the Back Benches, as I hear some of my colleagues do from time to time. I will support this Government, who have done a wonderful job over the past 10 years. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not attend the first session. Was his fee for the first session too expensive, or, given his rates for speaking, is the overtime that would be charged too much money for the Tory party?

On the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman, let us make no mistake: the Secretary of State for Health has apologised for the difficulties with the technology and the system’s delivery. I understand that she will also be making a statement after Prime Minister’s questions, so the matter is best left for then.

While the right hon. Gentleman is on mistakes, let me point out what this Government have done in office, compared with what his Government did. You gave us boom and bust, and we gave an economy of economic growth. You put 3 million—[Hon. Members: “He.”] I will do it again. He gave the country boom and bust, and we delivered sustained economic growth, which we had not seen for decades. He put 3 million on the dole; we put 2.5 million people back to work. Most scandalously, he doubled the number of pensioners in poverty; we lifted 1 million out of poverty. I will swap mistakes and records with him—the House will hear more and more of that, whether I am Deputy Prime Minister or not. May I say that I am the longest-serving Deputy Prime Minister? I have seen off five Tory shadow spokesmen and four Liberal ones, and I am still here.

Mr. Hague: We are very sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman will not be whingeing from the Back Benches, because we hoped that he would—and indeed he may be tempted to in the coming years. However, the question was about junior doctors.

A year and a half ago, the Government knew that unprecedented numbers of doctors would require training posts on 1 August. Now, with 11 weeks to go, thousands of junior doctors either have no training posts or have no idea where in the country their jobs will be, or even in which country they will be. If the Government are going to start admitting to mistakes, should they not also start holding Ministers to account? Given the right hon. Gentleman’s long experience of sitting at the Cabinet table, which we have all just celebrated, who does he think is to be held responsible for the junior doctors fiasco? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes, the Tories. [An Hon. Member: “Wicked Tories!”] Yes, even the wicked Tories, when we look at the record.

I have told the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State will come to the House to deal with the matter later, and that will be the appropriate time for it to be dealt with. Indeed, I understand that she will be answering an urgent question that has
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been tabled. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman tabled it, but it has been tabled and we will answer it.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman where the fault lies. We had to increase the number of medical students when we came to office: this Government brought in 72 per cent.—13,300—more student doctors. The Opposition health spokesman, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), knows that to be true. We doubled investment in junior doctor training, and doctors’ pay increased by 17 per cent. That is not a bad record. It is the difference between us in government and the Tories in government.

Mr. Hague: It is a bad record, given that large amounts of the money are being spent on junior doctors who must then find jobs in Australia and Canada because training posts are not available in this country. It is no good blaming everyone else. Two thirds of GPs now think that general practice has become worse in the last decade, and 95 per cent. of consultants say that the Government’s performance in this regard has been miserable.

The Chancellor is keen for the Government to admit to mistakes. Is not another of those mistakes the looming fiasco over home information packs? Given that the Chancellor wants to strengthen Parliament and strengthen home ownership, will he be here in Parliament this afternoon to vote with us against home information packs, which will damage home ownership?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The issue of home information packs is a typical example of the hypocrisy of the Opposition. They say “Vote blue, get green”—I think that that was their slogan—but as soon as an opportunity comes to vote for an energy conservation measure, whether it is home information packs or the climate change levy, they always vote against it. That is the difference. It is rhetoric versus substance.

While I am on the subject of rhetoric versus substance, let me deal with the point about doctors. It is interesting to note that a Healthcare Commission survey published today shows that 90 per cent. of patients said national health service care was “excellent”, “very good” or “good”. There are 115,000 more nurses in the NHS, waiting lists are down, there are more operations, and there is massive investment in the health service. Under the Tories, waiting lists went up, beds were cut and the hospital building programme ground to a halt. Don’t tell me about your record!

Mr. Hague: The survey also shows that mixed-sex wards are still prevalent in a large number of hospitals and trusts, so don’t tell us about your record! I mean that the right hon. Gentleman should not tell us about his record, Mr. Speaker.

Let me return to the subject with which we are now dealing. Is it not the Chancellor who has cut grants for low-carbon building programmes and the use of solar power? I know that he always likes to disappear when there is trouble, but where is he today, when home information packs are to be debated? He is never around when there is bad news, although making himself invisible when he launched his leadership campaign was taking things to extremes.

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