Previous Section Index Home Page

4 July 2007 : Column 947

Welsh-speaking Workers

5. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial and Assembly colleagues on measures to safeguard the rights of Welsh-speaking workers. [146376]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): I can confirm that my predecessor had regular discussions with colleagues in both the UK and the Welsh Assembly Governments on a wide range of issues, including the Welsh language, and I intend to continue such discussions.

Hywel Williams: I am grateful for that answer. Thomas Cook is the latest in a long line of companies to blunder into bad personnel decisions and public relations disasters on the language issue. As the company states in a letter to me, it never intended to ban the use of Welsh, but at the same time it says that the preferred language in some cases is English. The private sector is clearly confused about the matter. Does the Minister agree that the Welsh Language Act 1993 needs to be reviewed and reformed, if only for the benefit of the private sector?

Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman is aware that the First Minister announced a legislative programme on 6 June and also announced that there would be an Order in Council on the Welsh language in the autumn. In the Wales Office we are closely monitoring the situation with Thomas Cook, and we know that the Welsh Assembly Government Minister responsible has requested a meeting with the company. I also know, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, that Thomas Cook has entered discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Welsh Language Board in relation to its Welsh language policy. All hon. Members will welcome that approach.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Mr. Speaker, I apologise for any misunderstanding with the Chair.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on keeping not one but two jobs in the Cabinet, and say diolch yn fawr to the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) for his courtesy to me during his time in office. May I also say half a goodbye to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), and extend a warm welcome on behalf of the official Opposition to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) to their new positions on the Front Bench for Wales.

Does the Minister acknowledge the importance of the Welsh Language Act, which has done so much to protect and enhance the position of the Welsh language, and also acknowledge the main advocate and architect of that Act, my right hon. Friend Wyn Roberts, the noble Lord Roberts of Conwy? Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the dedication that Lord Roberts has shown to Wales throughout his long and distinguished public service career, and wish him a long and happy retirement?

4 July 2007 : Column 948

Huw Irranca-Davies: I add my sentiments to those of the hon. Lady and welcome her back to her position. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would echo the sentiments as well. Yes, there has been a great deal of cross-party support for the Welsh language. It is worth remembering the successes, which include the fact that since 1993 Government Departments and public bodies have introduced 423 statutory and 53 voluntary Welsh language schemes. Over 37 per cent. of children between the ages of three and 15 speak Welsh, and there is an 80,000 increase in the number of people in Wales who can speak Welsh. That is to be applauded.

Prison Overcrowding

6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet representatives of the Prison Service to discuss prison overcrowding in Wales. [146378]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my predecessor have held regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on matters affecting Wales, including prisons. The Government have announced further plans to ensure that there are enough prison places throughout England and Wales.

Mr. Bellingham: I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment. Is he aware that very large numbers of Welsh prisoners are starting their sentences as mild drug abusers but coming out of prison as hardened drug addicts? What assessment has he made of the impact of overcrowding on the capacity to deliver effective rehabilitation programmes?

Huw Irranca-Davies: We are monitoring the situation closely. To clarify, this is an area of retained powers, not a devolved matter. Since 1997, the Government have increased prison capacity by nearly 20,000 places, and in 2007, capacity will increase further by 2,200 places. On top of that, a new capacity-building programme will deliver 8,000 new places by 2012, so we are well on the way to addressing the issue of overcrowding.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): When I met offenders recently in Rossett churchyard, it was clear that they were carrying out purposeful work in tidying up the graveyard for the benefit of the local community. Does my hon. Friend, whom I welcome to his new position, agree that the key to reducing the prison population in Wales is to impose tough, non-custodial, alternative sentences, so that the local community can benefit from those who commit crime in the longer term?

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend speaks a lot of sense, and I pay tribute to those involved in the scheme that he mentioned. It is undoubtedly right that a progressive agenda must look at the issue of non-custodial sentences as well. We must also consider the issue of driving down crime. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, in Wales recorded crime is down 3 per cent., violent crime is down 1 per cent., burglary is down 10 per cent., and theft from vehicles is down 3 per cent. Only detection rates are going up.

4 July 2007 : Column 949

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): Is the Minister aware that South Wales police are having to transport, house and feed at least seven prisoners a day because of prison overcrowding, a total of 570 since the start of the year, at a cost of over £250,000? What impact will that have on the ability of South Wales police to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour?

Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Lady draws attention to the use of police cells for the custody of prisoners. It is not ideal, but Operation Safeguard is a well-established and tried-and-tested agreement between the National Offender Management Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers to hold prisoners in police cells instead of prison custody at times of high population pressures. It is a pragmatic approach, but the answer to overcrowding is, as I have already said, to tackle the root causes of criminal activity and to build new prison places, which we are doing.

Train Services

7. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What discussions he has had with First Great Western trains on the December 2007 timetable consultation. [146379]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend who has been tenacious in pressing the concerns of First Great Western's customers—especially those living west of Cardiff. My predecessor met First Great Western on 20 June, and I will continue to follow developments closely.

Mrs. James: When my hon. Friend meets First Great Western, will he ensure that the consultation being undertaken is a real one, not a paper exercise? For too long in south-west Wales, we have fed information to First Great Western, but nothing happens. We are a little tired of that and we want consultation to take into consideration our needs and aspirations.

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend continues to be a powerful advocate on behalf of rail passengers in Wales, and I can assure her that we will press hard for this to be a meaningful consultation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to First Great Western, seeking assurances on these issues, and our talks with First Great Western will continue. We intend to ensure that the consultation is meaningful.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The fourth prize in a recent charity auction in my constituency was a pair of First Great Western first class return tickets to London. I do not think that I dare travel First Great Western, but if the Minister would like them, I will gladly give them to him.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I do travel regularly on First Great Western—every week—and on Arriva trains as well. It is unacceptable that First Great Western’s performance in the third quarter of 2006-07 was the lowest of all the long-distance operators. In a recent passenger focus survey, 72 per cent. of First Great Western passengers expressed their dissatisfaction. However, First Great Western has given commitments, and we will continue to press it for massive investment in the
4 July 2007 : Column 950
routes that it serves through to south Wales and look for the results. Let me also pay tribute to the Welsh Assembly, which, among other things, is investing more than £50 million to enhance capacity in the Valley Lines network. We must not forget about the feeder network either.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [147224] Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 4 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, before listing my engagements I am sure that the whole country will welcome the news that Alan Johnston, a fearless journalist whose voice was silenced for too long, is now free. I want to thank all those who contributed to the diplomatic and other efforts to secure his freedom.

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

Daniel Kawczynski: I congratulate the Prime Minister on becoming the leader of our country. He said—[Hon. Members: “More!”] He said that he would, unlike his predecessor, listen to the people of our country. With that in mind, can I inform him that the great men and women of Shrewsbury have spoken, and they have voted overwhelmingly against unitary authority status for Shropshire? Four out of the five district councils are against it, as am I, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne). Will the right hon. Gentleman listen to the people of Shrewsbury and please not impose this ghastly unitary authority status on us?

The Prime Minister: Of course we will listen. As I understand it, Shropshire county council—a Tory council—proposed these measures. I also understand that the hon. Gentleman’s local council at Shrewsbury is against the measures, and that it has taken judicial action to try to have a review of them. Of course, I cannot comment on that judicial action, but the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government or I will be pleased to meet him after that action to discuss the next step forward.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister press the international community to develop financial instruments for the protection of tropical forests to ensure that the 20 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions that are going up into the atmosphere from the destruction of those forests does not continue?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he did as a Minister in this Government to deal with the issues of tropical forests. I welcome the fact that he is now going to take a major interest in trying to ensure that the tropical forest in the Congo basin is reforested, that jobs are protected, that livelihoods are ensured and that the £50 million investment that we are supervising for that forest actually takes place. Let
4 July 2007 : Column 951
me congratulate him on becoming a special envoy for the Government in this task.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): First of all, I agree with the Prime Minister about Alan Johnston. It is fantastic news that he is on his way back to his family.

Recent attempts to cause massive loss of life in London and in Glasgow remind us of the very real threat that we face in this country. There are a number of measures that we believe would make a difference. First, we support the use of telephone tap evidence in court so that we do not just catch these people but convict them and lock them up. Six weeks ago, the Government agreed to our proposal for a Privy Council review of this issue. Can the Prime Minister tell us how soon they will publish the names, when it will meet, and when it will report?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that, right across the House as right across the country, there can be unity in our determination to fight terrorism. I want to remind people of just how brave and courageous the explosives experts in London and those who tackled the terrorist activity at Glasgow airport were. I hope that we can continue on an all-party basis to agree measures that are necessary in this country to deal with the terrorist threat. On the specific question of intercept, I can tell him that we will go ahead with our investigation, carried out on Privy Council terms, and of course I shall consult him and the leader of the Liberal party on the names of the people who will conduct it.

Mr. Cameron: I hope that we can make progress. It is a complicated issue but setting up a committee is not complicated and that should happen without delay.

We need to act against groups which are seeking to radicalise young people. Almost two years ago, the Government said that they would ban the extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. We think it should be banned—why has it not happened?

The Prime Minister: Of course, with all those details—I have had to tackle the matter at the Treasury when dealing with terrorist finance—one has to have evidence. It is precisely to examine the evidence that we instruct several investigations.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we will do. We will expand the watch list on potential terrorists, which is the means of co-operation across the world, from Europe to the Arab states. We list them in such a way that authorities in different countries can be warned. We will expand the background checks that are being done where highly skilled migrant workers come into the country. Where people sponsor them, we will ask them to give us their background checks. As a result of what has happened in the national health service and because of what we know has happened in the past few days, I have asked Lord West, the new terrorism Minister, to conduct an immediate review of the arrangements that we must make for recruitment to the NHS. Finally, we will want to sign new agreements with other countries around the world so that we act together to deal with the potential terrorist threat and we can deport people to countries where they should be
4 July 2007 : Column 952
rather than this country. Again, I hope that there can be all-party agreement on the measures that we are taking to ensure the security of British citizens and to work with other countries in the fight against terror.

Mr. Cameron: A very interesting answer, but I asked a specific question. The Prime Minister said that we need evidence about Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organisation says that Jews should be killed wherever they are found. What more evidence do we need before we ban that organisation? It is poisoning the minds of young people. Two years ago, the Government said that it should be banned. I ask again: when will this be done?

The Prime Minister: We can ban it under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. Of course— [Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition forgets that I have been in this job for five days. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer.

The Prime Minister: I have agreed that we will look at the issue, but we need evidence, and it cannot be just one or two quotes. We must look in detail at the evidence and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we should approach those matters in a sustained and calm way; that we should not jump to conclusions but consider all the evidence. That is the basis on which the Government will proceed.

Mr. Cameron: But there has been a lapse of two years since the Government said that they would ban the organisation. People will find it hard to understand why an organisation that urges people to kill Jews has not been banned.

As well as preventing radicalisation and stopping future dangers, we need to protect ourselves against present dangers. Does the Prime Minister agree that the time has come for a national border police force?

The Prime Minister: I am prepared to look at that. I have, of course—when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer—looked at how the Customs and Excise authorities can work better with the police to secure border arrangements. However, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that everyone who looks at the issue, including Lord Stevens, who considered it for him, has concluded that the need for identity cards is complementary to a border police force. [Interruption.] It is his party that continues to oppose identity cards. The new shadow terrorism Minister, Lady Neville-Jones, whom he appointed only a few days ago, also said that identity cards are complementary to the other measures that are necessary to protect our borders. I hope again, in the spirit of bipartisan co-operation, that he will reconsider his views on the need to introduce identity cards.

Mr. Cameron: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to trade quotes on identity cards, perhaps he will try this one from the Chancellor of the Exchequer:

Next Section Index Home Page