Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): Including lawyers.

Mr. Twigg: To be fair, the right hon. and learned Gentleman made that precise point.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's third point related to dentistry in Lincolnshire. I understand that Lincolnshire health authority and the Prime Minister's consultant facilitator for dental access met in May this year to consider plans for NHS dentistry. Various proposals are moving forward, but it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman raised a matter of wider concern, on which further progress needs to be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting not only spoke briefly about Cyprus, but raised issues concerning Wandsworth prison and broader questions relating to education and asylum seekers in prisons. He will know that the Government had a clear manifesto commitment to improve the quality and quantity of prison education. We are committed to improving the provision of education and training for prisoners as part of our strategy to help ex-offenders to get jobs and avoid reoffending. As my hon. Friend's remarks showed, the achievement of that manifesto objective is a big challenge, but the Government are firmly committed to it.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) was the first to decry the absence of the Liberal Democrats from the debate. When I checked the details, I found that he has rather a small majority over them in his constituency, so I am sure that bashing them in the House makes for a good press release back there. However, he also made important points about railway services for commuters into London. As I represent a commuter constituency on the other side of the city, I am well aware of the overcrowding problems to which he referred. He mentioned the ambitious figures for investment in our railways that are contained in our transport plan. Clearly, it will be vital to ensure that that money is properly allocated in the coming months and years.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham asked about whaling and sought clarification of the Government's position. I am pleased to make it clear on the Government's behalf that the United Kingdom's policy on whaling is unchanged. We oppose it and we strongly support the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling. There is no justification for the activity, apart from some subsistence whaling by indigenous people. We should like all other forms to be stopped.

20 Jul 2001 : Column 593

We will make our position clear in the current talks in Hammersmith. In the long term, we want the moratorium to be extended. As my hon. Friend said, it is not currently comprehensive because Norway and Japan undertake whaling operations, which are legal under the existing rules. We want them to be strengthened to prevent that.

My hon. Friend also mentioned a London bid for the 2012 Olympic games and suggested that there should be a permanent site for the games in Athens. I assume that he intends that site to be established in 2016 so that the London Olympics can take place and the games can move to Athens four years later. He mentioned several possible locations for the Olympics. He knows that Patrick Carter is due to present his report to the Government in late August, and we await his conclusions. The Government do not yet support or oppose any bid because it is a matter for the British Olympic Association. However, the Mayor of London supports a London bid, which appears to be a serious possibility for 2012.

Like other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Ruislip–Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made important points about the provision of health care. He knows that the matter to which he referred is up for consultation and that the relevant community health councils have taken the case to Ministers, who are considering the details. I am therefore not in a position to comment, but I shall ensure that his contribution is drawn to the attention of Health Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch talked about mobile phone masts, to which I have already referred. He also considered capital investment in schools. Substantial progress has occurred, but decades of underfunding primary and secondary schools mean that we have a long way to go. Hon. Members throughout the country know of schools in their constituencies that require attention.

I understand my hon. Friend's point of view on private contractors and private finance. However, the first private finance initiative-funded school opened in my constituency this academic year. Highlands school has so far been a successful local comprehensive that educates 11 to 18-year-olds.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell focused on teacher shortages, and the impact of housing costs on the problem. As a fellow Member from the south-east, I am well aware of the problem, especially in London and the south-east, but also in other parts of the country. It would be foolish to deny it, and greater priority should be given to the matter as we move forward with our education policy.

I apologise for missing the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East. From the account that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave me, my hon. Friend described an appalling case, and I am happy to give him an undertaking that I shall refer it to the Law Officers, who can consider what action, if any, to take.

The hon. Member for Castle Point has returned to his former seat. He spoke about beta interferon and several important local planning matters. I shall ensure that he receives replies to parliamentary questions that he has already tabled and some of the broader points that he made in today's debate.

Many contributions referred to the low turnout at the recent general election. None of us can deny that there is a serious problem when more than 40 per cent. of those

20 Jul 2001 : Column 594

entitled to vote do not bother to do so. There are many theories and different points of view about what happened. However, it is a serious matter that the House needs to address systematically.

My hon. Friend the Member for North–East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has worked tirelessly over many years in the House and outside to promote the modernisation of our electoral procedures and changes in the electoral rules. Again, today, he set out several positive and helpful suggestions that contribute to the debate about how we can enhance turnout. No one in the House believes that the poor turnout was simply a product of the difficulties in gaining access to voting, but if barriers exist, as he suggested, we must do our very best to remove them. Although the rolling register, for which he campaigned for many years, represents a major advance in enabling more people to be on the electoral register in the area in which they live, more can be done and needs to be done.

I thank my hon. Friend for his positive suggestions, which will be open for debate, on questions such as reducing the voting age to 16, overseas registration, voting rights for prisoners and encouraging more civic education in our schools, which is something on which the Government are seeking to make progress. From his account of previous years, it sounds as though he has been rather lucky in the private Members' Bill ballot, in securing two private Members' Bill slots in three years. I hope that we can assist him in making progress in the areas to which he referred.

My hon. Friend referred to the new report from Scope, "Polls Apart", and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton gave further examples on that subject. Clearly, there is a fundamental principle, to which my hon. Friend referred, that there should be proper equality of access to polling stations. If people cannot get that access on an equal basis, we are undermine democracy.

Harry Cohen: In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for North–East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the question of whether prisoners should have voting rights. I agree with that, but is there not a strong case that criminals should not be members of the House of Lords?

Mr. Twigg: I have no idea what my hon. Friend could possibly be referring to. Perhaps that is an issue to which he will have an opportunity to return after the summer recess.

I have just two minutes in which to draw my remarks to a close. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) raised some important questions about tackling pensioner poverty and the importance of the pension credit legislation that was announced in the Queen's Speech in benefiting what he called the middle third group of pensioners. He set out three caveats, then made a further three points, and I will ensure that his questions are passed to my colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions.

The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) raised a matter of real concern in his constituency about sixth-formers being charged for school transport and about the advice being given to use education maintenance allowances to fund that. I will draw that to the attention of my colleagues. Of course, education maintenance allowances are a positive innovation of this

20 Jul 2001 : Column 595

Government in recognition of the fact that if we are truly to widen access to continuing education, we need to address the number of young people—particularly poorer young people—who drop out of the education system at the age of 16.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, whose maiden speech is still etched on my memory from four years ago, described himself today as "Mr. Average".

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Hear, hear.

Next Section

IndexHome Page