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Immigrants (Attacks)

5. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What recent reports he has received of attacks on immigrants in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [283758]

7. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What recent reports he has received of attacks against the immigrant population in Northern Ireland. [283760]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): These attacks in Northern Ireland are wholly to be condemned. Fortunately, it now seems that they were a relatively isolated set of incidents, and the House will wish to know that three people have now been charged with serious offences.

Mr. Hollobone: Why were the police not more aware of the simmering tensions with the Romanians in the local community? Does that not underline the importance of getting effective community policing up and running in Northern Ireland?

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Mr. Woodward: With respect, I think that the Police Service of Northern Ireland does an extraordinarily good job in protecting the community in Northern Ireland, and I caution the hon. Gentleman against using the incident to draw a general point. That being said, we should acknowledge that the police said that they did not know enough about the Romanian community at the time. Of course, they are looking at the matter, however, and I am again pleased to report that it looks as though it was an isolated set of incidents.

James Duddridge: Margaret Ritchie, the Northern Ireland Minister with responsibility for housing, was saddened by the attacks, but not surprised. In light of that, does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate any more attacks, and what provisions have been made against that eventuality?

Mr. Woodward: All of us were extremely disappointed that the attacks took place. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that every political leader, led again by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, condemned the attacks. Regrettably, there can be intimidation in any community, but let us be clear: race attacks should be condemned, wherever they take place.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Does not what happened show that parts of Northern Ireland are still deeply divided and segregated, including the divided communities in Belfast? What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage all Departments across the spectrum to develop the framework of “A Shared Future” and an integrated society in Northern Ireland, so that the process of reconciliation and healing can begin and the community can become genuinely welcoming to people from outside its borders?

Mr. Woodward: As the investment made from the United States indicates, Northern Ireland today is a genuinely welcoming community. My hon. Friend referred to the need to continue to build on “A Shared Future”; the First Minister is here today, and I know that he very much believes in that. But let us be clear. The best way in which we can build a shared future is to complete stage 2 devolution of policing and justice— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. A lot of private conversations are taking place, and frankly the decibel level is too high. That is unfair to the Member asking the question and to the Minister answering it.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State agree that, whether a person is an immigrant or from the indigenous population in Northern Ireland, all threats, intimidation and murder, whether emanating from a person within the Northern Ireland community or from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland, must be condemned and stopped?

Mr. Woodward: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Of course such things must be condemned and stopped, and we all have a duty to make that happen. The best example that we can now give the people of Northern Ireland is to ensure that stage 1 devolution continues to work and delivers for people
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and that we show, sooner rather than later, that the politicians of Northern Ireland can share the responsibility for policing and justice as well.

Bill of Rights (Public Consultation)

6. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): When his Department plans to begin a public consultation on the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. [283759]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): The Government are currently considering the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s detailed proposals. We aim to publish a consultation paper after the parliamentary summer recess.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that polls show that three quarters of people in Northern Ireland, from all sides of the community, think that a Bill of Rights is important for the future, will the Minister, after the consultation, commit to allowing sufficient parliamentary time to deliver on that vital part of the Good Friday agreement?

Paul Goggins: Before we consider the issue of parliamentary time, we need a proper consultation on the proposals made by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. As the hon. Lady will know, it provided us with a 200-page document with some 80 recommendations. We are considering all of them very carefully indeed. I look forward to the public consultation that will follow later in the year.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The Minister will be aware that there is widespread concern, particularly in the Unionist community, about the proposals in the draft Bill of Rights. Unionist parties, Unionists on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Protestant Church leaders have made clear those concerns. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not proceed with the Bill of Rights as it is currently drafted and that they will go back to consult the community and take on board the genuine concerns held by many people in Northern Ireland?

Paul Goggins: I acknowledge that there are many views on the issue, and many views have been expressed. There was, however, one report from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; we have received it, are considering it and will consult on it. However, I offer the right hon. Gentleman the absolute reassurance that he and all people in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to comment on and be part of that consultation.

Equality Commission

8. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What recent discussions his Department has had with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on its review of the effectiveness of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. [283761]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): The Northern Ireland Office contributed to the Equality Commission’s consultation process during
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its review of the effectiveness of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Copies of the report were placed in the Libraries of the House on 9 June.

Philip Davies: Having recently had discussions with elected politicians in Northern Ireland who find section 75 to be a bureaucratic, institutionalised piece of political correctness, I ask the Minister to consider repealing the provision instead of encouraging such politically correct box-ticking, which does nothing to improve community relations in Northern Ireland.

Paul Goggins: Why did I think that the hon. Gentleman might use the phrase “political correctness”? I ask him to reflect for a second on the importance of the commitment to equality and fairness in Northern Ireland in the context of the past 10 years. Putting equality and fairness at the heart of the political and public policy-making agenda is absolutely essential to ensure that peace takes the place of violence and sectarian hatred.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): While the Secretary of State emphasises the importance of fairness and equality being at the heart of affairs in Northern Ireland, does he accept that the legislation as currently drafted has led to an extensive and unnecessary piece of equality legislation that has led in turn to the build-up of an equality industry that serves few of the purposes that he outlined in his answer, and that therefore any future legislation should be designed to dismantle that industry while ensuring that the principles of fairness and equality remain?

Paul Goggins: I do not accept or recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman has given. There is a commitment to equality; indeed, there is an absolute responsibility on public authorities to consider all their policies in relation to equality. Where it is felt that there might be an adverse impact, an equalities impact assessment should be provided. The important thing, as the Equality Commission has recognised, is not the process but the practical outcome in terms of the lives that people lead. I hope that in future we will focus on those practical outcomes more than on anything else.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Elderly People (Long-term Care)

Q1. [284662] Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North) (Lab): What the Government’s policy is on the funding of the long-term care costs of elderly people.

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

Before I take my right hon. Friend’s question, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan in the past week. They were Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, commanding officer of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards; Trooper Joshua Hammond of 2nd Battalion the Royal Tank Regiment; Lance-Corporal David Dennis
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of the Light Dragoons; Private Robert Laws of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment; Lance-Corporal Dane Elson of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards; Captain Benjamin Babington-Browne of 22nd Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers; and the soldier from the Light Dragoons who was killed in Helmand province yesterday. We owe these men, and all those who have lost their lives in service, our deepest gratitude. They served our country and the people of Afghanistan with distinction in desperately difficult conditions ahead of the very important August presidential elections in that country. They will never be forgotten.

I hope that the House will understand if I take a moment also to offer my condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the fire in Camberwell on Friday.

In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), the Government plan to publish a Green Paper on care and support shortly.

Malcolm Wicks: I know that all Members offer their condolences to the families who have suffered such terrible losses in Afghanistan—those brave men—and also closer to home in my right hon. and learned Friend’s own constituency.

Given that the cost of care associated with the ageing of our already elderly population is in many respects an unfinished chapter in the history of the modern welfare state, and that it affects many families in Croydon and in all our constituencies, does the Leader of the House agree that we now need quickly to develop a robust social policy that will allow the spreading of risks and costs?

Ms Harman: I very much agree with my right hon. Friend who, ever since he was at the Family Policy Studies Centre, has drawn the House’s attention to these issues. With an ageing population, the number of those over 85 is set to double over the next two decades. This is a major challenge for families and for the Government. We will bring forward a Green Paper that will have the objective of ensuring that there is independence and choice in the provision of services, that the highest quality of services is available to everybody, and that those services are affordable for the individual, for the families and for the public purse.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): May I associate myself with the remarks that the right hon. and learned Lady made about those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and in Camberwell?

Is not the Government’s policy on the funding of long-term care accurately summarised as being to procrastinate and to delay? Can the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that Tony Blair promised action on this subject to the Labour party conference in October 1997? Since then, we have had the Wanless review, we have had a zero-based review, we have had several comprehensive spending reviews, and we have had a royal commission—but we have had no action. When will the Government deliver the action that the then Prime Minister promised 11 and a half years ago?

Ms Harman: This Green Paper will be a very important next step, but it is not true that we have taken no action. Since we have been in government, we have recognised
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the importance of family care and those who go out to work as well as care for older relatives. That is why we brought in the right to request flexible working for those who care for older relatives—that is action. That is why we have increased resources for the health services for the many older people who need health care support. That is why we have increased resources for social services, so that there is domiciliary care available to people who remain independent in their own home as well as social services residential care. Yes, we will take further steps and we will consult on the challenges ahead, but it is absolutely not true to say that we have made no progress over the past 10 years. We have.

Q2. [284663] Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I join in offering condolences to those who have lost their lives at home and abroad, particularly Trooper Joshua Hammond, who has a very large family in Plymouth mourning his loss. My constituency is home to a large number of hard-working public sector workers—cleaners, cooks, health care workers and administrators. Public sector workers have an average pension of £7,000 a year. Does my right hon. and learned Friend understand their anger and concern when those rather modest pensions, and indeed their modest pay, come under attack as being somehow unfair or unreasonable?

Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend. We are strongly committed to public services and to the work that public servants do, particularly those who work hard, often for very modest incomes, and we make no apology at all for public service pensions remaining an important part of the remuneration package of public sector workers.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): On behalf of the Opposition, may I also send our condolences to the families of the six people, including a three-week-old baby and two other children, who died in such tragic circumstances in Camberwell, in the right hon. and learned Lady’s constituency, on Friday evening? That event was deeply distressing to her constituents and the whole country.

I join the right hon. and learned Lady, of course, in paying tribute to the seven servicemen who have been killed in Afghanistan in the past week: the soldier from the Light Dragoons killed on Tuesday; the soldier from the Royal Engineers killed on Monday; Lance-Corporal Dane Elson; Lance-Corporal David Dennis; Private Robert Laws and Trooper Joshua Hammond, who were both aged just 18; and Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, who was the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards.

Given those casualties, should we not particularly remember this week that our forces deserve our gratitude and admiration? Are the Government satisfied that everything possible is being done to provide the best possible protection and mobility for our forces there, including the earliest possible increase in the number of helicopters and armoured vehicles?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we must do everything possible to ensure the greatest protection for our troops in the field, and there is no complacency about that. We have increased the number of armoured vehicles that have been procured
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for and made available to our troops, but we are not going to be complacent and there must be more. We have increased the number of helicopters by 60 per cent. over the past two years, but we recognise that we should do more. We want to do more not only for their personal protection but in recognition of the importance of their mission in Afghanistan, not only to that country but to the region and to the security of this country.

Mr. Hague: We all recognise that it is important to do more, and we will hold the Government to the commitments that the right hon. and learned Lady has made.

Moving on to Government policy more broadly, will she put into plain English for everyone the Prime Minister’s assertion last week that

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman will know that all the figures are set out in the Budget book. Our commitment is clear: we are making public investment now to help to back up the economy, get through the recession and ensure that it is shorter and shallower than it would otherwise be. That means backing businesses, protecting people’s jobs, helping the unemployed and ensuring that people do not face repossession. We are taking action. The right hon. Gentleman wants to concentrate on numbers to avoid facing up to the fact that the Opposition have proposals to cut public investment now— [Interruption.] They have proposals to cut public investment this year, just when the economy needs investment most. I understand that the shadow Chancellor revealed last week that he spends 40 per cent. of his time thinking about economics. It is amazing that he spends 40 per cent. of his time thinking about doing absolutely nothing.

Mr. Hague: Perhaps the Leader of the House could spend 100 per cent. of the next minute trying to answer the question she was asked about what the Prime Minister meant by a “zero per cent. rise”. Is it not now clear that every single word of the assertion that he made last week is wrong—that total spending will not rise, and there will not even be a “zero per cent. rise”, as he bizarrely called it, in 2013, but that the figures in the Government’s books, which the Leader of House mentioned, show that there would be a fall? As so many supporters of the Government are now calling for honesty about spending, should she not find it in herself to do what the Prime Minister refuses to do: admit the facts of the Government’s figures? Will she come down on the side of reality and say that, on the Government’s figures, total spending is set to fall?

Ms Harman: Our honest and committed view is that we need to invest now to back up the economy, not only to protect individuals, who have worked hard to build up their businesses, but to ensure that the situation is not worse in the longer term. How telling it is that the Opposition want only to talk about figures in five years’ time to distract attention from the action, which they do not support, that we are taking now.

Mr. Hague: There is no need to talk about the figures in five years’ time as the Government’s figures show that capital spending will fall from £44 billion this year—and fall every year—to £22 billion in four years. Is it not an indisputable fact that capital spending is being halved?

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