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2 Apr 2008 : Column 757

Mr. Bellingham: Why are there so many drugs in prisons, and why is it that a number of young offenders in Wales enter prison as mild drug users, but come out as hardened addicts? Is it not a disgrace that some wings in prisons, including prisons in Wales, have been designated “drug-free” wings? Surely that is a dreadful indictment of Ministers, because every wing of every prison should be drug-free.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I assume that the hon. Gentleman has visited some of the prisons in Wales, as I have, and seen some of the drug-free wings that he talks about, where the policy is clearly to encourage and work with prisoners who have made a clear decision to give up entirely on drugs, and to make sure that they do not take them. That policy is working: 8.6 per cent. of mandatory drug tests in prisons gave positive results in 2006-07, compared with 20 per cent. 10 years ago. The rate of those testing positive for the use of opiates has fallen by more than 25 per cent. in the past 10 years. Yes, there is more to do and we are working on that, but our investment in drugs treatment in prisons is working, whereas before there was failure.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The reason we have drug-free wings in prison is that we do not have any drug-free prisons. Is it not a continuing disgrace that under Governments of both parties we have never been able to control drugs in prisons? The tragedy that continues these days is that people who go in as users and come out clean, who are put down as successes for the prison system, often die very quickly. Two of my constituents came out of prison drug-free: one lived a week, and another lived a day.

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend makes an important point not only about rehabilitation and drug treatment in prisons, but about the aftercare of people who come out into the community and the treatment that is made available to them. He will welcome, as I do, the more than 7,500 drug treatment programmes completed in prisons in England and Wales in 2006-07. That figure is 30 per cent. above the target, so we are doing the right things and heading in the right direction, but we recognise, as always, that we need to do more.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister is complacent. I think that things will get worse in Wales, because more than 58 per cent. of women prisoners have drug addictions, the reoffending rate among women is now 60 per cent., and there are no women’s prisons in Wales, so they are treated on programmes through English primary care trusts. Given the growing differences between the English and Welsh health systems and the poverty of supply of drug rehabilitation places, how can we ensure the continuity of drugs programmes and support on release for women prisoners returning home to Wales?

Huw Irranca-Davies: Support for women prisoners is a real issue, especially following Baroness Corston’s review. We await decisions from the overall Prison Service about what will be brought forward. However, I have already highlighted the fact that although there is more work to do, our investment in drug treatment in prisons is paying dividends. We will continue to drive down the use of drugs in prison and to promote the aftercare of prisoners when they go into the community.

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Neighbourhood Policing

5. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on neighbourhood policing in Wales. [197229]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, chief constables and others on law and order issues in Wales, including policing. I welcome the fact that, from 31 March, Welsh communities are fully covered by neighbourhood policing teams. That achievement follows three years of hard work by forces, police authorities and local communities.

Chris Ruane: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he join me in congratulating the Denbighshire crime and disorder reduction partnership, which, of the 376 partnerships in England and Wales, came out as the third best? Will he also join me in recognising the leadership of Divisional Commander Michelle Williams and Denbighshire’s Roly Schwarz in helping to achieve those fantastic results?

Mr. Murphy: I send my best wishes to the officers concerned. Denbighshire community safety partnership is one of the best in England and Wales, and has the third best crime reduction figures over the past three years. It is a great story for Denbighshire and Wales.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that neighbourhood policing may well succeed because the Home Office has rolled it out throughout the United Kingdom? Will he resist any calls from Members of the Welsh Assembly to take control of policing, which would be a disaster for law and order in Wales?

Mr. Murphy: I agree that the Home Office’s work has achieved excellent results. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the future of justice and policing will remain with the United Kingdom Government and Parliament.

Climate Change

6. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the consequences of climate change for Wales. [197230]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): The Secretary of State has regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues, including the vital subject of climate change.

John Robertson: My hon. Friend will realise that our commitment on climate change and to low-carbon energy is important. As Chairman of the all-party group on nuclear energy, I hope that two sites in Wales will bid for new nuclear facilities. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, in his discussions with the First Minister, he will not experience the sort of problems that we did in Scotland with the Scottish National party?

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Huw Irranca-Davies: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tireless advocacy of nuclear power as part of the solution. Certainly, the Secretary of State recently met my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and representatives of Wylfa power station to discuss the future of the site, not only in its current form but in the context of any proposed new build. I assure my hon. Friend that the Wales Office remains fully supportive of new build at Wylfa and will continue to meet parties who are serious about making that happen.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Government have jointly launched a feasibility study on the idea of a Severn barrage. Will the Minister confirm that any decision on that report will also be jointly made between the Welsh and UK Governments?

Huw Irranca-Davies: At all times—in the discussions on the Severn barrage and the report of the Sustainable Development Commission—there has been close dialogue and communication between the Welsh Assembly Government and the lead Department. I have no doubt that that will continue. It is worth pointing out that whatever option is pursued, the Severn barrage is unique in that it could save up to 3 per cent. of total UK carbon emissions and produce up to 5 per cent. of UK energy for the foreseeable future.

A & E Departments (Policing)

7. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): When he last discussed the provision of police resources to cover accident and emergency departments in Wales with the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and if he will make a statement. [197231]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular discussions with Home Office Ministers, chief constables and others in respect of policing issues in Wales.

Alun Michael: Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity, when he next speaks to the Home Secretary, to draw to her attention the benefits of the violence reduction programme in Cardiff, which is led by a distinguished medic, Professor Jon Shepherd? The programme has already been drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health, who is taking an interest. Will my right hon. Friend promote co-operation between the health service and the police service to reduce violence, not just in Cardiff but throughout the country?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, I can assure my right hon. Friend that I will pass that message on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and tell her about the good work done by Professor Shepherd.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [198129] Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 2 April.

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The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I have been asked to reply.

Before listing my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of the two Royal Marines who were killed in Afghanistan on Sunday, Lieutenant John Thornton and Marine David Marsh. We owe them both a deep debt of gratitude. As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is today in Bucharest, Romania, for the NATO Heads of State and Government summit meeting.

Mr. Joyce: In a few days, the all-party group on the great lakes region of Africa will visit Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both of which have proper, legitimate, democratically elected Governments. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is, today, time for Mr. Robert Mugabe to accept that the people of Zimbabwe deserve no less?

Ms Harman: I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he does in his all-party group. He is absolutely right: the whole House will want to express its solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and its concern that they should have their democratic choice respected and recognised. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have raised the plight of the people in Zimbabwe. Four million people have been forced to flee that country. The average life expectancy is now down to 34 and the economy is in ruins, but today the eyes of the world are on Zimbabwe, which stands at a turning point. Robert Mugabe must respect the decision of his people.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Lieutenant John Thornton and Marine David Marsh, who were killed in Afghanistan on Sunday, and to the soldier who was killed in Iraq last Wednesday—a further reminder of the sacrifices and service of our armed forces.

On a lighter note, I should like to congratulate the Leader of the House on being the first female Labour Member ever to answer Prime Minister’s questions. She must be proud, three decades on, to be following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, whom we on the Conservative Benches, and the Prime Minister, so much admire. I have just one question on Zimbabwe before the Foreign Secretary’s statement at 12.30 pm. Will the Leader of the House make it clear, on behalf of the Prime Minister, that Britain wants to send the clearest possible signal that the world will be there to help the people of Zimbabwe, on top of what she has just rightly said, and that there will be a comprehensive plan to assist them, whenever they are able, to move away from corruption and dictatorship, to the rule of law and democracy?

Ms Harman: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations, but I would like to ask him: why is he asking the questions today? He is not the shadow Leader of the House; the shadow Leader of the House is sitting next to him. Is this the situation in the modern Conservative party—that women should be seen but not heard? If I may, perhaps I could offer the shadow Leader of the House a bit of sisterly advice: she should not let him get away with it.

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Hon. Members: More!

Ms Harman: On the question of Zimbabwe, I absolutely endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, and I do so on behalf of the Government. This Government are the second biggest donor to Zimbabwe and we stand ready to step up that support. We will work with the international community, but it is also right to focus on South Africa and Africa to help find a solution to the problem. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken to Thabo Mbeki and to Kofi Annan; he will work to make sure that pressure is put on Robert Mugabe to respect the democratic choice of his people.

Mr. Hague: Before turning to domestic issues, I was going to be nice to the right hon. and learned Lady. She has had a difficult week. She had to explain yesterday that she dresses in accordance with wherever she is going: she wears a helmet on a building site, she wears Indian clothes in the parts of her constituency with a large representation of Indian people, so when she goes to a Cabinet meeting, she presumably dresses as a clown. [ Interruption. ] As I said, I was going to be nice to her before her previous response.

Turning to serious domestic issues, the Prime Minister is reported to have said on Monday night that no one would be worse off as a result of the doubling of the 10p tax band this weekend. Does the right hon. and learned Lady think that that statement was true?

Ms Harman: I would just start by saying that if I were looking for advice on what to wear or what not to wear, the very last person I would look to is the man in the baseball cap.

Turning to the important question of the economy, it has been our Government’s determination to ensure that we have a strong, stable and growing economy, so that people can be in work, be in their jobs and be better off. What is important is that people should have jobs and be able to afford their mortgages. Before the right hon. Gentleman cries any crocodile tears about low-income families, perhaps I can remind the House that when he was Leader of the Opposition, it was he who led the opposition to our national minimum wage and he who led the opposition to tax credits, which are helping 6 million low-income families.

Mr. Hague: I did not detect an answer to the question in all of that. The Leader of the House might still need advice on what to wear, and if she thinks her constituents might kill her, she should look behind her.

Is it not the case that, contrary to what the Prime Minister said on Monday night, 5.3 million mainly lower-paid families will be worse off this weekend, as demonstrated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and as confirmed by a Treasury official to the Treasury Committee? Is she further aware that after the meeting of Labour MPs on Monday night, where that point was made, one Minister is reported to have said:

Was not that Minister speaking the truth; and was it by any chance her?

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Ms Harman: One thing we recognise is that the tax burden under this Government is not as high as it was under the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a part. When it comes to standards of living, when we came into government, this country was the worst among the G7 for average income per head, and after 10 years of Labour government, we are second from the top; and we stand by that record.

Mr. Hague: If the right hon. and learned Lady thinks the tax burden is declining in this country, the Government are even more out of touch than anyone might have thought. The cost of living is rising; real earnings have fallen for two years; and the Government have chosen this moment to hit 5 million mainly lower-paid families and kick them when they are down. Let me read what another Minister said—this time on the record. The Health Minister, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) said that people

Does she not have even a little bit of sympathy with that Minister’s view that people feel that the Government are out of touch?

Ms Harman: I do think it is right to recognise that with the international financial turbulence and uncertainty, people are apprehensive. They need to be able to look to the Government to have the determination that we will make sure that our economy is as resilient as possible as this country faces difficult and challenging economic circumstances. It is because we are in touch and concerned about the issues that most affect the British people that we have improved hospitals and schools and have ensured that there are more jobs in the economy, and that is what we will continue to do.

Mr. Hague: The right hon. and learned Lady is allowed, while the Prime Minister is not here, to say that the Government are out of touch. He has gone to a meeting in a palace, so he is probably lost by now. She is allowed to agree with the Minister who said that the Government are out of touch.

The right hon. and learned Lady has acknowledged, and I thank her for that, that people are apprehensive about the situation, but two months ago she wrote in her blog that

Does she want to update that statement in the light of what she just said and say that people are now apprehensive and are feeling insecure, and that the Government are out of touch?

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