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Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall the devastation that was visited on communities in west Wales and the valleys during the 1980s and the early 1990s as a result of two Tory recessions. Does he agree that the policies that were followed then were wrong and left a lasting legacy that meant that under the Labour Government we qualified for special European aid? The way to get out of a recession is not to cut our way out, but to grow our way out.
Mr. Murphy: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He will know that long-term unemployment was a scourge in the 1980s and 1990s, and that the Government cannot be an uninterested observer. Government, both in Cardiff and in London, must act, and that is the opposite of what the Conservatives stand for.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Further to the question by the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott), the Secretary of State will know that last year it was announced that 12,000 jobs would be lost in the offices of the Department for Work and Pensions, the equivalent of losing 200 offices. Some 33 towns in Wales are currently without offices. Given that a further £15 billion of cuts are on the way, how many more jobs will be lost in that sector in Wales?
Mr. Murphy: Obviously we have to try to preserve all jobs, whether in the public or private sectors. The Government measures announced in the Budget include the money for Jobcentre Plus, the money for the under-25s in Wales and the measures taken over the last couple of months, and they are specifically designed to ensure that jobs are protected. Of course, we cannot avoid some job losses, because they are inevitable in a downturn such as this, but we have to do all that we can to ensure that other jobs are availablethousands of jobs are still vacant in Walesfor people to take.
Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): This has not been an easy time for anybody seeking work, and we in Swansea, East have also faced challenges. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the work that Jobcentre Plus has done is absolutely fantastic. I want to commend the work of our local Jobcentre Plus in Morriston. Will the Secretary of State ensure that publicity and promotion is made available, both for employers experiencing difficulties and for those seeking work, to promote the work of jobcentres?
Mr. Murphy: Yes, of course I will ensure that that message is put across. My hon. Friend does a great deal for the people of Swansea in this regard. She will know, of course, that the Labour party conference met very successfully last weekend in Swansea. All the policies to which I have just referred also refer specifically to the problems faced by her constituents in Swansea, East.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con):
The Secretary of State will be aware that the latest job loss figures from Wales are dire. Unemployment in my constituency has gone up by more than 100 per cent. in the past 12 months. On Friday, I was at my local Jobcentre Plus, which is doing valuable work, but will
the Secretary of State say what additional support can be given to those new victims of the recession who need targeted and specialist support? They have a solid and continuous work history, and often a good education, and they might never have been inside a jobcentre in their lives. They need targeted support and they face a very bleak set of circumstances right now.
Mr. Murphy: I quite understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If he follows the proceedings of the Budget last week and the announcements that followed, he will see that some 7,500 new jobs for young people in Wales could be created by initiatives that the Government have taken over the past couple of days and the money that is going in. At the end of the day, the Government are tackling these issues in a manner that is entirely different from the non-policies of the Opposition.
John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Secretary of State for Defence about the Ministry of Defences policy of sustainable procurement in the defence technical college contract in St. Athan in my constituency? If that policy is adhered to, it will have a dramatic effect on unemployment in south Wales, with planning taking place next month and construction starting next summer.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is aware that I am in constant contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, particularly on the subject of the defence training academy that is coming to my hon. Friends constituency. My hon. Friend has done a great job in this respect, and this is the biggest single public procurement project ever in Wales.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): On 6 November, the Secretary of State announced that a £150 million investment fund to help businesses would shortly be operated through Finance Wales. The chief executive of Finance Wales said that the scheme had been planned for some time. Why did it take six months to launch it, why was it left until the Welsh Labour party conference to do so, and what does he say to the thousands of people who have lost their jobs in the meantime whose businesses might have been helped by that fund? Does shortly mean when politically convenient?
Mr. Murphy: I think that the hon. Lady understands that much of the finance that goes into these schemes comes from Europe. That includes money for Finance Wales, and this weekshe is aware of this, as she just made reference to it£150 million of new money has come into Wales as a consequence. She asked what I would say to the people of Wales with regard to these issues of unemployment. I would say that her party was in government for 215 months, and that for 205 of those 215 months unemployment levels in Wales were higher than they are today in Welsh constituencies.
Bob Spink: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and I welcome Government measures such as the exemption on business rates for vacant business properties and the additional time allowed to pay taxes. We still need to unblock bank lending. Will the Secretary of State say what he will do to achieve that in order to help enterprising people through these tough times?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the key to small business success is the unlocking of funds from the banks. In Swansea a few weeks ago, the all-Wales economic summit met leading bankers in Wales to encourage them to do precisely that. In addition, the new enterprise guarantee fund scheme in Wales has already paid out £8 million to help 90 Welsh firms. That is real action for people in Wales.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on a range of issues, including railways. I should like to pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) has done in campaigning to raise the profile of this extremely important railway line.
Mr. Caton: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but does he agree that this beautiful railway route through Wales and England is not delivering to its full potential at the moment, especially in green tourism? In future, will the UK Government co-operate with the Welsh Assembly Government in developing a strategy to improve the line?
Mr. David: Co-operation on this issue is vital. I give a commitment that we in the Wales Office will ensure that there is maximum co-operation between the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Government. However, I point out that the Welsh Assemblys Rail Forward programme has set aside some £50 million for investment, which implements the political agreement that has been struck.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown):
Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our deepest condolences
to the family and friends of the soldier from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. All those who have lost their lives in conflict deserve our profound gratitude for their service, and we will never forget those who have shown such dedication to our country and to the people of Afghanistan.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the cases of swine flu that have been diagnosed at Monklands hospital. To reassure my constituents and many other people, will he tell us what plans are in place to deal with this very worrying problem?
The Prime Minister: In addition to the two members of the public in the Monklands area who have contracted swine flu and who I understand are getting better, the House will want to know that there are three further confirmed cases. One is a 12-year-old girl from Torbay, and the other two are adults, one from Birmingham and one from London. All of them travelled recently from Mexico and have mild symptoms. They are all receiving Tamiflu, the treatment that has been effective so far, and are responding well to it. The school in Torbay at which the 12-year-old is educated will close down for the time being, and all pupils will be offered the Tamiflu antiviral.
I believe that we are making the necessary preparations and taking the precautions that we need to take to prevent the incidence of the disease in this country. I can confirm that we have enhanced airport checks, and that we are advising people not to travel to Mexico unless it is necessary. We will continue to review the position, and at the same time we have decided to build up stocks of antivirals from 35 million doses to 50 million. We are ordering a great many more face masks, and we will send out public information to all citizens in this country. By Tuesday of next week, an information leaflet will be available for every family.
The World Health Organisation has said that we are one of the best prepared countries. We intend to keep it that way, and to do everything in our power to make sure that people are safe from this worldwide flu.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday? He died serving our country, and we should honour his memory.
The whole House will share the Prime Ministers concern about the cases of swine flu and what he has just said, and the whole House will also welcome the steps that the Prime Minister and the Government are taking. May I ask a number of specific questions? First,
may I ask about the national flu line? That was supposed to be up and running already, but instead we are currently told, I believe, that it will not be operational until the autumn. Given the importance of making sure that information is available for people, can the Prime Minister tell us what the Government are doing to speed that up?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I am very grateful for the opportunity to explain that, and to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about both our best wishes for those who are affected by the flu and the preparations that we are making to deal with the problems that arise from it. I can say about the flu line that interim arrangements are being made. We signed a contract with BT last year. It is not simply an information line; it is about the availability and distribution of antivirals to people in the country. If that is necessary, that will be done, and we have made arrangements so that that can be done, but of course over the longer term we want to create the flu line, which is to be brought into being when it is necessary. I have to say that the circumstances in which it would be used are not yet reached, and we hope that they will not be reached, but arrangements have been made. If I may say so, the Health Secretary will make a fuller statement to the House this evening about those very issues.
There are two further issues on preparedness that I would like to ask about. First, the Prime Minister said that the Government are ordering more stocks of antivirals. Currently, those stocks cover half the population. The Government have accepted that it would be useful to have antivirals not just for treatment, but for prevention. He gave some figures earlier; could he tell us the time scale for getting up to those figures, and what percentage of the population would then be covered?
The second issue is about face masks; again, the Prime Minister mentioned it. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, has, I believe, raised the matter 15 times in the last four years. The Health Secretary said on Monday that the Government have not yet done enough. Again, could we have a time scale on the issue of face masks as well?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful, again, for the right hon. Gentlemans questions about this, because it allows me to explain to the public everything that is being done, and everything that we intend to do. As far as the antivirals are concerned, we are increasing our order from the 35 million that we now have to 50 million. These are brought into use, normally, only where symptoms of the flu are discovered, so we feel that we are well prepared at the moment, but it is right to increase the coverage of the population, and of course it is right to help national health service staff who may be exposed to the flu.
As far as face masks are concerned, let me say that there are large numbers in stock but we have got to do more, and we have now ordered, and are ordering, several million more masks. These orders will come in over the next few days and weeks, and we are determined
to have what is necessary. May I say, so that there is no confusion on this, that the face masks are what are necessary for the NHS staff? The guidance that has been given by the chief medical officer about what the public can do, and the guidance that we will send out in the information note from next weekit will be on the website a lot earlierwill not refer to a need for the public to have such a face mask. This is for NHS staff who are in circumstances where they come up to people who are perhaps facing, or suffering from, that flu. That is what the face masks are for. I hope that there will be no doubt in the publics mind that the advice given by the chief medical officer over the last few days about how people can best prevent the flu and prepare themselves for it is the advice that we stand by, and the Health Secretary will reinforce that this evening.
Mr. Cameron: May I thank the Prime Minister for that answer and that information? I am sure that at this time, the whole country and the whole House of Commons will want to wish the staff of our national health service well in what may be difficult days ahead.
May I turn now to the issue of the Gurkhas? The leader of the Liberal Democrats should be congratulated on proposing the Opposition day debate that we are having later today on the Gurkhas. Everyone in this House, I believe, wants to meet the obligations that we owe the Gurkhas. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need a solution that can be introduced rapidly, but that is consistent with fair and managed immigration? Does the Prime Minister now accept that the proposals that he has put forward are too restrictive, and as a result will neither honour our obligations nor command public support?
The Prime Minister: May I just reply to the last part of the right hon. Gentlemans comments about the national health service before I come on to that? We have, of course, issued guidance to every health authoritythey are all involved in dealing with this, even though cases have been confirmed in only four areas of the country. The advice to nurses and other members of the health service is that the antiviral will be available to them. The Health Secretary will give more details on that this evening. We want to protect the staff of the national health service, and as everybody recognises, they do a great job. We are very proud of them, and we will continue to support them in everything that we do with the funds that are necessary.
Coming on to the subject of the Gurkhas, which has been raised in the motion tabled for debate today, since 1997, we have taken the first action to give justice to the Gurkhas. During that period, the first ever rights of settlement for Gurkhas in Britain have been agreed, and 6,000 of them have applied successfully and have come into the country. Secondly, we have introduced equal pay and pensions for the Gurkhassomething that had not happened beforeand, thirdly, we doubled the pensions of people staying in Nepal and increased the pension for Gurkhas, especially those at a senior age. I respect the fact that this is a matter of great concern for everybody in the country, but we have to balance our responsibilities to those who have served our country with the finance that we need to be able to meet those obligations, and therefore not base our offer on money that we cannot afford.
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