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The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant):
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I know that he has devoted a considerable part of his political career to addressing that issue, for which I pay tribute to him. One terrible problem faced by people-normally
young women, but sometimes young men-in that situation is that they are in a complex double bind: if they try to break free, they will be sent back to the country of origin. We are looking very closely at that situation with the Home Office, and I hope we can provide a satisfactory answer fairly soon.
Mr. Ivan Lewis: Recent events in Burma do not encourage us to believe that the elections will be free and fair. For example, Aung San Suu Kyi faced trumped up charges, a bogus trial, and a sentence that was an offence to any notion of justice, and now her appeal has been thrown out. Of course, we continue to hope that the Burmese authorities will miraculously change their position in the weeks and months ahead, so that the elections will be free and fair, but that will require not only the release of Aung San Suu Kyi but the changing of the constitution and the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners. We continue to hope, but I must say that we are very sceptical about the prospect of those elections being free and fair.
T6.  Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Despite the potentially significant costs to US-China relations, President Obama was none the less happy to meet the Dalai Lama. Why did the Prime Minister refuse to do so?
T10.  Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Co-operation between NATO and the European Union continues to be undermined by the absence of agreement between Turkey and Greece on the long-term future of Cyprus. What are the Government doing to try to resolve that situation?
Chris Bryant: We are very keen to use the current opportunity-Governments in Ankara and Athens, and leaders in the north and south of Cyprus, who are committed to a successful, whole settlement in Cyprus-and determined to do everything we can to ensure that there is a further intensification of those talks. The current situation on the island is a tragedy of significant proportions, and it will never be resolved unless there is a comprehensive settlement.
T7.  Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): To return to the vexed situation in Iran, I am sure we agree that the best solution would be a more moderate and democratic Government in that country, yet the oppressive Ahmadinejad regime is now blocking all international broadcasts, including BBC Persian TV. Could the Government put pressure on satellite broadcasters that are used by Iran via the International Telecommunications Union, and consider including telecommunications in any proposed sanctions? That would at least allow the people of Iran to see a different view to that which their Government want to show them.
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Not just the BBC but Deutsche Welle and other international broadcasting organisations are being blocked from Iran. That is doubly significant given the popularity of those international stations. He makes the very good point that we should be working hard to get those airwaves free again. We are certainly doing so bilaterally, but I can assure him that we are also doing so on the multilateral scene.
David Miliband: Obviously, the reduction in checkpoints is welcome. I have the latest figures for 2008 and 2009 for economic development in the west bank and I have discussed them with Prime Minister Fayyad recently. It is fair to say that although the reduction in checkpoints is welcome, the economic growth was secured before that reduction. We hope that the reduction in checkpoints will contribute to further economic growth in the years ahead.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what practical measures of co-operation are being offered by the Israeli Government to those conducting the investigation into the abuse of British passports? How would he characterise that co-operation?
David Miliband: I would say that it is premature to characterise the co-operation on a scale of one to 10, or nought to 10, but it is important that we send a clear message that we expect that full co-operation. The Serious Organised Crime Agency investigation is getting going, and is now spending some time in the middle east. For obvious reasons, I shall not give a running commentary on that investigation, but I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point seriously-I am sure that the House agrees-and we expect full co-operation with SOCA's work.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): The Government are correct to work for the toughest possible inspection regime of the Iranian ambition to promote enriched nuclear material, whether for domestic or other purposes. However, the Foreign Secretary has a duty to tell us in what circumstances he believes the Iranians might launch an attack on any other country in that region, especially Israel.
The Iranians do not have a nuclear weapon yet, thank God, and that is important. The whole thrust of our policy is reducing tension in the area. From my discussions with Gulf neighbours, I can tell my hon. Friend that they are extremely worried about Iranian destabilisation activities in the Gulf. The support that is given to Hezbollah and Hamas is also destabilising for the middle east. The offer that has been made clearly to Iran is that it will be treated as a normal country, on nuclear and other matters, when it starts behaving as a normal country. That is not victimisation; Iran is the author of its own misfortunes, massively against the interests of its people. That is why our strategy of reaching out to the Iranian people-not
victimising them-while putting pressure on the regime must be the right one. After all, we may be dissatisfied with the Iranian regime, but it is only half the dissatisfaction felt by the Iranian people.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity this week to speak to the South African President and Foreign Minister and discuss the situation in Zimbabwe? Will he try to persuade them that we really would appreciate it enormously if they put a little more pressure on Mr. Mugabe, because he is the impediment to progress in that country?
David Miliband: I am happy to report to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that I met the South African Foreign Minister this morning in advance of the state visit. There is a high degree of interest in, and excitement about, the state visit in South Africa, as there is here, and we welcome President Zuma and his 12-strong ministerial team and 200-strong business team very warmly. We discussed the Zimbabwe situation this morning. I very much take the content of the hon. Gentleman's question in the spirit in which it is intended, recognising South Africa's central role, and I assure him that I conveyed both at the meeting today.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Will the Minister take a look at Amnesty International's January report "Giving Life, Risking Death", which reports 200,000 unnecessary deaths among pregnant women in Burkina Faso because of discrimination and other factors? Will he authorise a diplomatic effort to try to help that country to bring down that figure?
Chris Bryant: I am grateful for the point that my hon. Friend makes. He is right to say that there are significant issues that we need to address, and that is one that will be referred to in the Foreign Office's own human rights report, which we will publish in the next couple of weeks.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): To return to the horn of Africa and piracy, is the Secretary of State aware that some people in international shipping are turning off their automatic transponders, which is making it very difficult for ships, including those from the Royal Navy and other navies from across the world, to protect international shipping? It might also be a breach of chapter 5 of SOLAS-the international convention for the safety of life at sea-and disqualify any future insurance claims.
David Miliband: No, I was not aware of that important point, but I am happy to forward it to Operation Atalanta headquarters-the centre of the EU naval mission off Somalia-at Northwood here in the UK. He raises an important point. International shipping has a responsibility to work with international security forces, both on the lanes and the identification of their ships to promote safety on the high seas.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): On 11 February, at least 17 children were arrested from the Al Jalazun refugee camp by Israeli forces in the middle of the night and allegedly suffered ill treatment, then and during interrogation. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Israeli Government about the large number of Palestinian children held in custody and facing trial, if at all, by a military tribunal?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend, who I know follows these issues carefully, has raised related or similar issues with me before. As I said to him on those occasions, we raise very clearly with the Israelis and, I have to say, with the Palestinians, a range of human rights issues, including not only social and economic rights but security and the treatment of detainees. I do not know of the individual case that he raises, but I shall certainly look into it. It is important that the message goes out very clearly that we expect all sides to live up to their international, as well as domestic, obligations under international law.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At Communities and Local Government topical questions on 26 January, and again last month during the local government finance report debate on 3 February, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government used Treasury costings to claim in the House that our policy of working with local authorities to help them to freeze council tax for two years was using
"dodgy, unrealistic and out-of-date figures".-[ Official Report, 26 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 672.]
It now turns out that the Treasury figures on which he based those comments were themselves wrong. In fact, we have seen them updated, in a response to a freedom of information request, and the figures have now been updated on the Treasury website.
Mr. Speaker, will you give me some guidance on whether, given that the Secretary of State was quick to come back and comment on the original Treasury costings, we can get him to return to the House to comment on the fact that those figures, and therefore his comments, were wrong?
Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I am happy indeed to offer her some guidance. The point that she has just raised is regrettably not a point of order, but a point of debate. On reflection, I think that she herself will almost certainly be conscious of that fact. My particular guidance to her would be that she should table further questions precisely to elicit the information that she thinks that she should get. I am sure that it will not be beyond her ingenuity to find a variety of ways to press her case.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some months ago, when
I raised in a question my concerns about Lord Ashcroft, I was, in a kindly and friendly way, warned by a Back-Bench Conservative Member that I should keep quiet because Lord Ashcroft had a way of exacting retribution from his critics. Indeed, he expressed the view that he personally would not cross Lord Ashcroft. Given this morning's revelations about Lord Ashcroft's true status, will there be an opportunity for the House to discuss him and the process by which he became a Member of the House of Lords?
Mr. Speaker: If memory serves me, the hon. Gentleman entered the House in 1979, and therefore he is not far short of 31 years in the House. He will be well familiar with the institution of business questions on a Thursday morning, and I have a hunch-something tells me-that on Thursday he might be tempted to raise this matter and to seek the debate after which he obviously hankers.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice and help. During Question Time today, the matter of the state visit by the President of South Africa was raised. This is a major event involving 12 Ministers, and it is important both to this country and for the influence that can be brought to bear in Zimbabwe. Is it possible, through you, Mr. Speaker, to request that a statement be made by the Foreign Secretary as soon as he is in a position to do so?
Mr. Speaker: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman, who is in his 39th( )year as a Member of this House, has been invited to any of the events attendant on President Zuma's visit. Of course, that is not a matter for me. He has, however, placed his views clearly on record. I think that we will have to leave the matter there for today, but I suspect that many will study his remarks.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require public authorities letting contracts for major capital works to require contractors to provide apprenticeships and skills training; and for connected purposes.
My reason for introducing this Bill, which I am sure will have widespread support across the House, is that we have seen some major disputes in recent times-notably at the Lindsey oil refinery and the Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire-and a new dispute is emerging only this week at Milford Haven. In these disputes, local workers and their unions have repeatedly made the case that they have been excluded from the ability to apply for jobs on major construction works.
I spoke at the Staythorpe workers' demonstration in Newark last year. I spoke again last month when the Staythorpe workers came to London to lobby Ministers. Those workers and their unions have been clear about their basic demands. I have had the opportunity to speak to them and to listen to them in great detail. Their view is that it is wholly unfair that such contracts can be let without giving their workers, who have the necessary skills, an opportunity to apply for the jobs.
The Prime Minister once talked about "British jobs for British workers", and the workers at Lindsey and Staythorpe took up that theme. They defined it, although in some of the reporting their clear definitions have been lost. I pay tribute to the way in which they conducted themselves, not least in ensuring that the bigots who attempted to attach themselves to those disputes were sent packing by the work force and by the unions, as was appropriate.
The Bill provides the detail that will enable us to spell out what the Prime Minister's slogan should actually mean, and it does so in three ways. The first relates to major public contracts, of which there are many. They have included the Crossrail contract that has recently been let, and the Olympic park, which also involves a major capital contract. There are also major contracts involving schools and hospital programmes. Perhaps the biggest of all will be the contracts for the new nuclear power stations. They will be huge contracts under which tens of thousands of workers will be employed, directly and indirectly, on constructing the power stations that this country so urgently needs.
Under the Bill, there would be a legal requirement that all jobs relating to a contract for major public works worth more than £50 million must be advertised in local jobcentres. That is a rather modest provision, but it was precisely the demand of the workers in my area, and elsewhere in Nottinghamshire and the midlands, who were denied the opportunity to apply for jobs at Staythorpe power station.
I want to say a few words about the scandal of Staythorpe, which was comparable to the scandal of the Lindsey oil refinery. At Staythorpe, the employers cut the wages and conditions of British workers and flew in
300 workers from Italy. They put them up in cheap dormitories and underpaid them in comparison with the locally and nationally negotiated pay rates. There were also major questions about health and safety. The Bill would make it much harder for that to happen, and it would make it illegal not to allow such jobs to be advertised in the local jobcentres.
Other provisions would do something far more powerful on contract compliance. The first would put a requirement on all public contracts of a certain size-the figure in the Bill is more than £50 million-that 2 per cent. of the entire work force, including subcontractors, sub-subcontractors and agency workers, should be new apprentices. Where there is a major power station, such as at West Burton in my constituency where a new gas power station is being built, and particularly when the public purse is paying for those contracts, 2 per cent. would mean 20 apprentices for every 1,000 workers, which seems a modest but reasonable input into developing skills when letting all major public contracts.
The Bill also provides for a specific legal requirement that all contracts involve a precise one hour's training a week, carried out in conjunction with local colleges, for the existing work force. That would mean-it is crucial for new nuclear build-that we would upgrade the skills at all levels of our work force, although, of course, that would be determined by the companies because it would be reasonable for them to decide which skills were required. When companies win these major contracts, with the help of local training providers, they can upgrade skills for the future for building and managing big power stations or other major public works.
That combination would provide an economic advantage or a competitive advantage in all contracts to companies that have an employment base in this country, while it would disadvantage others, such as the US company Bechtel, that come in and hoover up employees from elsewhere, including from competitors in this country, every time they win a contract here. Such companies contribute nothing to our skills base, as they just do the work and get out.
I think that this provides a realistic definition for the slogan "British jobs for British workers". As we all know, British workers, including those on the demonstrations, are of all colours and creeds. Indeed, a number have been born in many different lands, but those living and paying taxes in this country should have the ability to do this work.
Finally, let me reiterate a point about apprentices. We have huge new nuclear build ahead that will provide employment for vast numbers of workers. That work should go to companies based in this country, such as Laing O'Rourke, which employs 350 people in a world-leading, pre-cast cement works in Worksop in my constituency. It is those companies that should be winning these contracts, not companies from afar that poach the work force and contribute nothing to the skills base. For our young people, the thought of building these big power stations without large numbers of new apprentices learning building skills and power station management skills is not just outrageous, as that would be, but economically self-defeating.
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