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Flood and Water Management Bill

5. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on the implications for Wales of the provisions of the Flood and Water Management Bill. [315868]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Welsh Ministers on the implications for Wales of the whole of the UK's legislative programme. This Bill is very much a cross-border Bill, and it is a good example of the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government collaborating to benefit those on both sides of the border.

Miss McIntosh: I thank the Minister for that reply. We welcome the Flood and Water Management Bill, but we are concerned by a number of potential cross-border issues relating to how the flood risk management strategy for Wales might impact on England. What assurance can he give the House today that those issues will be dealt with timeously, transparently and sensitively?

Mr. David: I can provide the assurance that the cross-border issues will be central to the implementation of this legislation. It is clear that, right from the start of the discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government, there has been close co-operation between us, and a recognition on both sides of Offa's dyke of the need to ensure that our policies dovetail, overlap and pull in the same direction. This is a good example of the kind of partnership that devolution is all about, and it is in sharp contrast to what would happen if the Conservatives were in power.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Minister agree that not-for-profit companies such as Dwr Cymru should be allowed to invest in infrastructure as they see fit in order to improve customer service? An example is the proposal for much-needed storm drainage in Llanelli, which has been rejected by Ofwat as offering poor shareholder value.

Mr. David: Investment is always important. Dwr Cymru, despite recent difficulties, illustrates how a forward-looking company that is organised in a progressive way can make a meaningful intervention. Investment in this area is extremely important, and one of the most positive examples of recent times has been the £6.1 million of European funding for flood and coastal defences across Wales. Given the hon. Gentleman's attitude towards Europe, I suggest that funding such as that might be put at risk, were his party to get into power- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. It is unfair to the hon. Members asking questions, and to the Ministers who are answering them.

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Shop Direct

6. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): What representations he has received on the effect of the proposed closure of Shop Direct in Newtown on the economy of Montgomeryshire; and if he will make a statement. [315869]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales met the hon. Gentleman and representatives of the company earlier this week to discuss the serious situation. The Government will take action to provide retraining and new work opportunities.

Lembit Öpik: I thank the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for their considerable help so far in contacting the local mayor, Joy Jones, and local Councillor Richard White, who are helping me to save this site. I am now approaching other firms to offer Newtown's Shop Direct premises as a going concern. Is the Secretary of State willing to intervene directly, as it seems to me that that would increase the chances of making such a transfer in order to save 180 jobs?

Mr. Hain: I will certainly do all that I can, as will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, to help the hon. Gentleman, who I know has been working energetically to try to save that company and the maximum number of jobs that he can. He will be aware that the claimant count unemployment in Montgomeryshire has fallen consistently over the past four months and now stands at just 2.5 per cent. There are also some job vacancies, but the priority must be to save what we can; we will work with the hon. Gentleman as closely as we can.

Bank Loans

7. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on steps to improve the availability of bank loans for businesses in Wales. [315870]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Through the National Economic Council, I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues to try to ensure that businesses in Wales can access the funds they need.

Bob Spink: Will the Government use their considerable clout with the banks to get more liquidity into small and medium-sized enterprises? The banks are withholding overdraft facilities and funding for decent, good, sound companies and subcontractors, forcing them to the wall. The banks still do not get it.

Mr. Hain: I understand the frustrations that the hon. Gentleman, who has been a tireless advocate on this issue, is expressing, but the truth is that the Bank of England says that there is now more bank lending and that we have intervened with banks such as RBS in which we have a stake to ensure that they are pressed into lending extra finance. The truth is also that the Welsh economy and the British economy as a whole have started to recover from this deep recession, because of the actions that the Government have taken. I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports what this Government have done, as opposed to the disastrous policies that the Tories would follow if they were in power.

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Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that the construction industry in Wales has suffered during the recession and that this is partly due to the banks' restricting lending in this sector-despite there being a significant demand for housing and despite the fact that the banks have received billions in taxpayers' support. Will my right hon. Friend raise this issue at tomorrow's economic summit in Llanelli, where Welsh Assembly Members and other colleagues will be in attendance, to ensure that lending is released to the construction industry, so that we get skilled workers back in work?

Mr. Hain: Yes, of course I would be happy to raise this matter, which has been a source of continuing agenda discussion at recent economic summits in Wales. We will certainly discuss the issue tomorrow in Llanelli, and I will bring my hon. Friend's arguments to bear because the construction industry is vital. The investment that we are putting in will see more and more construction jobs, all of which would be put at risk if the Tories got into power.

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is still far too much noise. I am sure that the House wishes to hear Mr. David Davies.

Severn Bridge

8. David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the operation of the Severn bridge. [315871]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): Short and not so sweet! The effective operation of both Severn bridge crossings is a priority for all travellers using this vital route to and from Wales-something that both the Secretary of State for Transport and I fully recognise.

David T.C. Davies: Will the Minister explain why users of the Severn bridge will have to pay an increase in charges, whereas users of the Humber bridge, thanks to Government intervention, will not? Why is Wales being discriminated against? Is it because the Secretary of State for Wales would prefer to compare us to Rwanda rather than to other regions of the United Kingdom?

Mr. David: I have to ask whether the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that the Government spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money on subsidising the Severn crossings. I have to say that he is a classic example of two-faced Tories -[Interruption.] Yes, they suggest savage cuts one moment, while promising to spend billions the next.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): Although this is the 21st century, it is still the case that the Severn bridge toll can only be paid in cash. Because the toll is rising so fast, it is becoming trickier and trickier to have enough change. Is it not time to alter the law, so that travellers can pay not only in pounds and euros, but by credit card?

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Mr. David: That is a good point. Credit card payments are, in fact, being introduced for that reason. I pay tribute to, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) for her tireless campaigning. As a direct consequence of her intervention, work is under way to make the necessary arrangements for secondary legislation.

Dairy Produce

9. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on marketing Welsh dairy produce overseas. [315872]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): The United Kingdom and Welsh Assembly Governments continue to support Welsh farmers' promotion of their first-class produce overseas.

Michael Fabricant: Has the Minister had the near-orgasmic experience of trying Rachel's yoghurt, made in Aberystwyth, or perhaps of eating Llanboidy, Perl Wen or Llangoffan cheese from Wales? What action is he taking to ensure that those culinary delights are spread throughout Europe?

Mr. David: We are doing a tremendous amount in that regard, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I want to hear the Minister's answer.

Mr. David: I am sure you do, Mr. Speaker, and I shall do my best to ensure that you do.

Let me give a couple of examples of the excellent work that is being done. Welsh food and drink producers will be at the Gulfood trade exhibition in Dubai this month-and of course I must add, as Members would expect me to, that Caerphilly town and borough councils are doing their utmost to promote Caerphilly cheese. It is the best cheese in Europe, Mr. Speaker, and I should be happy to give a piece to you and to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant).

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [316556] Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 10 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Private Sean McDonald and Corporal Johnathan Moore from 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, attached to 3rd Battalion The Rifles, and to Warrant Officer Class 2 David Markland from 36 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers. These were men of great character and commitment, whose loss is already keenly felt by their colleagues. I want to pay tribute, on behalf of the whole House, to their courage and dedication. We think of their families and friends, and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

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

Dr. Iddon: I am sure that the whole House is at one with the Prime Minister in sending our sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of the brave servicemen who have lost their lives in serving this country.

I am astonished at the orchestrated campaign of opposition to our social care plans that seems to have been mounted in some newspapers this morning, supported by Tory councillors and BUPA, especially as the Conservatives did not oppose those plans when they were before the House. Will my right hon. Friend commit himself to continuing the fight to improve the lot of some of our most vulnerable citizens, the poorest pensioners in the country?

The Prime Minister: I am passionately committed, as are the Government, to finding a better way of ensuring security and dignity for the elderly generation in retirement. That means not just providing institutional care of the highest standard, but helping people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible with as good amenities as possible. I hope that there will be all-party support for the Bill that is now going through the House of Lords, and has already been through the House of Commons, because it will enable us to make urgent need payments to all people-whatever their income-who need the very highest level of care in their homes. It will take time to develop a full social care system for the future, but it is in our interest to establish a consensus in the country about how we can move forward to a better system for every elderly person.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal John Moore, Private Sean McDonald and Warrant Officer David Markland, who have been killed in Afghanistan this week? Their deaths mean that more people have now died in this conflict than were killed in the Falklands war. That is a measure of the scale of the sacrifice being made. Our armed forces need to know they have all our support in the vital work they are doing.

May I return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon)? This morning local councils controlled by all parties have said that the Prime Minister's social care plans are "unclear" and "unfunded", that they will lead to "possible cuts" and "rises in council tax", that they have "major weaknesses", and, crucially, that they will falsely

Everybody wants to do more to help with care, but why does the Prime Minister think that so many of the people responsible for delivering this policy are so completely unconvinced by what he has put forward?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman's party supported this Bill as it went through the House of Commons; I do not know whether he has done another policy U-turn over the last few hours. We have set aside £670 million in the next year; £420 million will come from the health service for providing that care for urgent needs. I know how much the right hon. Gentleman likes personalising politics, and of course I know how he hates Punch and Judy politics; I also know how
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much he wanted to build a consensus-such as we had, for a week, on the economy-but surely it is in the interests of this House that we are united in the way we help old people in their own homes. Surely a party that supported the policy one week should not be opposing it the next week.

Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister is going to have pre-prepared jokes, I think they ought to be a bit better than that one-probably not enough bananas on the menu. We have consistently raised questions about the funding of this policy, and just this morning the response to a freedom of information request from the Treasury shows that it could put £26 on the council tax. I have to say to the Prime Minister that it is not just Labour councillors who are angry about the way the policy has been put forward, but Labour peers as well. Lord Lipsey was a member of the Government's own care commission, and he says that this is

Lord Warner, who was one of the Government's Health Ministers, described the policy as a "cruel deception" of the elderly, the vulnerable and families. So can the Prime Minister explain why Labour councillors, Labour advisers and Labour Ministers are all angry about his mishandling of this?

The Prime Minister: When the right hon. Gentleman knew what Lord Warner and others had said about it, why did his party support it in the House of Commons? [Interruption.] He cannot one day say he supports a policy, and the next day have a completely different policy, on a very important matter. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but there is far too much noise in the Chamber. I want questions and answers to be brief and focused on Government policy, and I want to get down the Order Paper. Let us have a bit of order, for the Prime Minister and others.

The Prime Minister: We have had U-turns every month-every day of the month-from the Conservatives. They said it was moral cowardice not to cut and tear up our Budget for 2010, and then they changed their minds and took a different position. On this issue, are they really going to say to the elderly of this country that they voted for this measure in the House of Commons, they have urged their people in the House of Lords to vote for it as well, and now they are refusing to support what we are doing to give local authorities and the elderly an extra £670 million a year? As I understand it, the shadow Health Secretary asked for talks with the Secretary of State for Health so that there could be consensus on this issue. It was only last night that they broke the consensus. They had to take down a poster that they had at the beginning of the year because it was not authentic-and they will have to bring down their new poster, because it is simply wrong.

Mr. Cameron: What we want to know is: where is the money coming from? People who have worked very closely with the Prime Minister are completely opposed to the way this is being done. Let us try Andrew Turnbull. He was Cabinet Secretary, and he was permanent secretary for four years. [Interruption.] The
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Prime Minister waves him away, but Andrew Turnbull probably knows this Prime Minister better than anyone else, and he says this:

He also says:

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