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We dont have mass unemployment or inflation running rampant or interest rates responding to the ERM as we had then.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the employment opportunities in Wales are on big industrial and business parks and that the key issue is how we connect people in high unemployment areas and wards to those job opportunities on those parks? Does he also agree that pathways to work, city strategy and Want2Work initiatives by the Government are helping to overcome the barriers of transport, child care and skills?
Mr. Murphy: I do indeed. This Government and the Welsh Assembly Government must work together to ensure that people with particular skillswhether they are disabled or notcan take up jobs in the high-tech industries, especially in industrial and business parks throughout Wales.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly discuss offender management issues with ministerial colleagues. The Government remain committed to ensuring efficient offender management. We have provided an extra £40 million to help bring about more effective community sentences, and we are also increasing prison capacity.
David T.C. Davies: Prison capacity may be increasing, but the Minister is surely aware that the present chronic lack of spaces has led to dangerous prisoners being taken out of closed prisons and put into the camp at Prescoed, from which they immediately escape. Will he undertake to return to the Justice Minister and demand that enough spaces are built in the closed estate to ensure that people living near open prisons such as Prescoed can sleep safely in their beds at night?
Huw Irranca-Davies: We have provided an extra £1.2 billion to deliver a further and extended building programme that will create 15,000 places in England and Wales by 2014, 330 of which will be at Parc prison. As for the use of open prisons, public protection is the top priority. All prisoners in open prisons have been risk-assessed rigorously, and are in the final stage of their sentences. Moreover, the number of absconds from open prisons is at its lowest for a decade.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Minister accept that there is a rather poor partnership between the National Offender Management Service and the representatives in Wales? May I remind him that, according to the 2006-07 estimates, it cost £890 million to build the London headquarters, compared with the £833 million spent on the probation service as a whole? Does he not recall that, until we amended at a late stage the Bill that became the Offender Management Act 2007, the National Assembly was not even a statutory consultee in the process?
Huw Irranca-Davies: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is vital for the Welsh Assembly always to be consulted at the earliest opportunity, and throughout the process, on justice and all other issues.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the success of the womens demonstrator turnaround project, funded by the National Offender Management Service? It is based in Cardiff, and works with women offenders to prevent them from reoffending and going to prison. Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to support the project?
I will indeed. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to that work, and I also pay tribute to her support for it. I was pleased to be able to
visit people involved in the project only last year, and hope to return in the near future to observe their excellent work again.
Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): As the Minister probably knows, seven out of 10 prisoners have two or more mental health conditions. Given that health care for prisoners, including mental health provision and drug and alcohol treatment, is the responsibility of local health boards in Wales, will he commit his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to liaising with the Welsh Assembly Government to bring about a massive increase in provision, so that prisoners in Wales can gain access to the treatment that they need?
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Lady has made an important point about the need for liaison between the Welsh Assembly Government and lead Departments in this place. I take that on board, and I shall be happy to reflect the importance of that close discussion as this Government and the Assembly present their policies.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Welsh Assembly Ministers on a range of issues, including bovine TB.
Huw Irranca-Davies: As the hon. Lady will know, the issue is devolved, but we do have discussions with Welsh Assembly Government colleagues. In 2007 more than 7,900 cattle were slaughtered in Wales as a result of bovine TB compared with fewer than 700 in 1997, and the cost of compensation has risen from £1.8 million in 2000-01 to £15.2 million. While the approach is targeted and part of a wider strategy, we are watching with interest to see how the situation unfolds in Wales.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): Jobcentre Plus continues to play an innovative role in using digital technology to help people back into work, and I look forward to its continuing work in this area.
Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend pays regard to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as the Minister for digital inclusion and to my role as a junior Minister. Since 2007, viewers can search for job vacancies using digital television, thanks to the partnership between Jobcentre Plus and the local government digital TV portal, Looking Local. This Government are determined to innovate to help people back into work.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of the UK serviceman killed doing his duty and serving his country in Afghanistan on Monday. We owe him, and all others who have lost their lives, a deep debt of gratitude.
Mr. Jones: May I add my condolences to the family of the brave serviceman killed in Afghanistan this week? In the last few weeks, the world has seen the devastation by a cyclone in Burma, earthquake destruction in China, and now the spectre of the possible return of the famines of a generation ago in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the test by which the international community and developed world will be judged is how they respond to those crises and the cries from some of the poorest in the world?
The Prime Minister:
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me and others in sending condolences to all those who have lost their lives in China, where 40,000 people have died as a result of the earthquake, and in Burma, where we estimate up to 200,000 people have now died as a result of the cyclone, and to all those who are suffering as a result of famine, which is now hitting Africa again in this generation. The rescue effort in China has been heroic, and thousands of lives have been saved. We are now sending aid for shelters to China, as well as giving help with equipment. The progress in Burma remains slow, however. We have worked with the Association of South East Asian NationsASEANand the United Nations Secretary-General, and I believe that ASEAN aid will now flow into Burma with the permission of the Burmese Government. There is also to be a donors
conference this weekend in Rangoon, headed by the UN Secretary-General. We continue, however, to hold the Burmese Government accountable for the loss of life and the suffering of their people.
As far as Africa is concerned, the Secretary of State for International Development will be announcing new aid for Ethiopia and other countries that are hit by famine. Six million children are likely to be affected over the next few months, which makes the case not only for action on food shortages, but for the proposal put by the Foreign Secretary at the UN Security Council: that we now need a civilian stand-by humanitarian and reconstruction force that has the necessary funds to move immediately whenever disasters are threatening in the world.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the British soldier who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday. He died serving our country and we should all honour his memory.
May I return to the issue of Burma? Everyone is grateful for the efforts the Government have made over the last week, and it is good news that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is visiting Burma later this week. The donors conference the Prime Minister spoke about is also very worth while, but the situation on the ground remains desperate. What is the Prime Ministers assessment of the percentage and number of people who are still without aid three weeks after the cyclone hit?
The Prime Minister: I agree with the Leader of the Opposition; it is still a small fraction of people who are getting aid. Aid agencies, particularly British ones, are getting aid to people, but the key effort will now rely on an ASEAN-mobilised effort, as a result of the decision of its Foreign Ministers on Monday. We will put our resources behind that, as will the Americans, the French and the ships that are now off the coast of Burma. We hope that, as a result, aid will now get very quickly to the people of Burma. It is the combination of the ASEAN aid effortI have been in touch with the Prime Ministers of India, Singapore and Thailand and the President of Indonesia asking them to move things forward as quickly as possiblewhich the Burmese Government are now prepared to accept, and the push from the United Nations at the conference this weekend that can start to make possible the biggest difference.
As I said, I hold the Burmese Government responsible for what was a natural disaster turning into a man-made disaster, but, at the same time, we continue to look at all the other options, as I said last week. The general view of aid agencies on the ground is, again, that it is better to work through the Burmese Government to get the aid to people as quickly as possible, rather than to use the other options that may be available to us in the future. In the next few days, that is where all the efforts will be focused.
Clearly we all agree about the frustration with the slow progress; the UN estimates that fewer than a quarter of the people affected are receiving aid. I put a question to the Prime Minister: is there not a danger that the junta in Burma is doing just enough each day to prevent the international community from
taking those further steps to make sure the aid gets through on a huge scale? He said last week that he does not rule out direct aid. I think that he is absolutely right that the efforts by ASEAN to open up the country are the best route forward, but can he give us his latest assessment on how direct aid could be delivered if it had to be delivered? Is it not the case that for too many people in Burma time is just running out?
The Prime Minister: What has changed in the past few days is the determination of the ASEAN countries to take action. I spoke to the Prime Minister of India, and he has moved to agree to the action that is necessary and now agreed by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. I spoke to the President of Indonesia and the Prime Minister of Singapore, and they, too, are behind the major effort that ASEAN will now mount. Britain, France and America have been pushing for aid to be delivered, but what has changed in the past few days is that the ASEAN group of countries will now co-ordinate action, which will be backed up by the donors conference.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that aid has been too slow and I agree with him also that the Burmese regime has made it impossible, in some cases, for aid agencies to do their work. But what I do believe is that, as has happened in the past few days, the ASEAN countries have been seized of the necessity to take actionevery phone call that I have had suggests that, as do Lord Malloch-Browns visits to the regionand that is what we must monitor over the next few days. I do not rule out anything, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that, in talking to aid agenciesSave the Children, Oxfam and the World Food Programme, which is acting on the ground in the areathey still believe that food drops or other drops of aid would be counter-productive and that they still believe that military intervention would be counter-productive at this time. Let us hope, and let us push the ASEAN effort forward. Given the scale of the loss of life of which we are now aware, the whole House would wish that effort to move forward very quickly now.
Mr. Cameron: I wish the Prime Minister well with his efforts, and I thank him and the Government for keeping us regularly updated on this issue in the House. What has happened in China is also a huge tragedythe Prime Minister and I both went to the Chinese embassy yesterdaybut we must not let it knock off the front pages what is happening in Burma.
I shall turn, if I may, to an issue of domestic politics, which may explain the slightly emptier House of Commons today. Tomorrow, people in Crewe and Nantwich will go to the polls in a by-election. The abolition of the 10p tax rate is clearly a huge issue, so can the Prime Minister tell us whether the £2.7 billion compensation package will be continued into the next financial year?
The Prime Minister:
We have already said that we want to continue to help those affected by the 10p rate, and the Chancellor will make an announcement in the pre-Budget report. Perhaps there is a question that the right hon. Gentleman might answer. [Interruption.] We have announced a £2.7 billion package to help 22 million
people in this country and to give lower taxes to those who have been hit by food and fuel bills, and the Opposition cannot tell us whether they support it or not. The reason why they cannot tell us whether they support it is that their priorities for tax cuts are not our priorities. Their priorities are inheritance tax, stamp duty on shares and corporation tax. Let us give the tax cut to those who need it: lower and middle-income families in this country.
Mr. Cameron: The whole House will have noticed that that was no answer to the question at all. The man sitting next to the Prime Minister gave a slightly straighter answer when on Newsnight. Jeremy Paxman asked:
So this is for one year only?
Yes I made that clear this afternoon.
So, should not everyone conclude that this is a one-off, one-year-only change, whereby the Government give some people some money this September and take it all back again in April? It is just one tax con followed by another. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said today that even after the changes almost 1 million families will still be worse offand they are among the poorestand a total of 18 million families will be hit when the changes are reversed next year. Will the Prime Minister confirm those figures?
The Prime Minister: The IFS has also said that in the past 10 years the group that has benefited most from this Labour Government are the lowest income groups who are more than 10 per cent. better off. They would not have been better off if we had taken the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, who tells us that he wants to introduce a Budget that abolishes all of the endless reliefs and tax credits to create a basic rate of tax and abolish the top rate of tax at 40p. That is the policy of the Conservative party. We want to help lower and middle-income families: they want to help other people. He still has not answered our question: does he support the £2.7 billion?
Mr. Cameron: The last time I looked this was still called Prime Ministers questions. This is not like his thing on YouTube where people ask questions now and he gives an answer after 21 June. He absolutely would not confirm the figures, so will he tell us this? He brought forward his draft Queens Speech and he introduced a mini-Budget, all because of the by-election. Why has he not had the courage to go to Crewe and Nantwich to explain those points to people on the streets of those towns?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is the tradition that Prime Ministers do not go to by-elections. Like the people in the rest of the country, the people of Crewe and Nantwich know that 22 million households are better off by £120 as a result of the tax changes that we have made. They also know that we have put £2.7 billion into that. What they do not know is whether the Conservative party will support the changes. We are the party for low and middle-income families, making them better off: the Conservatives are the party that would prefer tax cuts for the richest.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister must know that the Labour party will never be taken seriously again as the party of low and middle-income families. It was 5.3 million low income people whom he hit in order to clamber aboard the premiership. The Prime Minister talks about the great tradition of Prime Ministers not going to by-elections. I remind him of what his predecessor, Tony Blair, said on his way to a by-election:
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