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Alley-gating Scheme

7. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What additional funding he plans to make available to make the alley-gating scheme operational across all areas of Northern Ireland. [132688]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The Government are supportive of the development of alley-gates, and once evaluation of the current pilot is complete, I will examine the outcome.

John Robertson: I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating all those connected with alley-gates. Currently, the results are favourable. Other than commenting on the money needed to roll out the scheme, will he say when he expects to get the final results of the pilot, and when he expects to be able to roll out the project to the rest of the region?

Mr. Hanson: I thank my hon. Friend for his support of the alley-gating scheme. An evaluation has been
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undertaken, and the Government have contributed more than £500,000 towards the implementation of 180 new alley-gates across alleys in Northern Ireland. Those have had a positive effect on crime prevention, and, in conjunction with the Executive, we will examine how to take the scheme forward in due course. The evaluation will report in the summer, and I am confident that it will show great success for the alley-gating scheme in reducing both crime and, more significantly, fear of crime. I hope that we will look positively at developing the scheme once the evaluation is complete.

Departmental Budgets (Unfunded Liabilities)

8. Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): What estimate he has made of the unfunded liabilities in Northern Ireland departments' budgets. [132689]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): Following restoration, decisions on the Northern Ireland budget will be for the Executive to make. Clearly established mechanisms such as the end year flexibility mechanism and the in-year monitoring process will enable them to deal with any emerging issues in the forthcoming budget.

Mr. McGrady: On 11 April the Minister said that there were “emerging financial pressures” in respect of the reform programme, including the review of public administration, rates and water charges. On 23 March, all the parties in Northern Ireland were informed that there were no unfunded liabilities. Will the Minister tell us which is correct, what is the quantum of the deficits, and what will be the impact on the Northern Ireland budget and the Chancellor’s package for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hanson: There are certainly unfunded liabilities for the future, as is always the case in any budget circumstance. The incoming Executive and the incoming Finance Minister, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), will have an opportunity to examine the position in-year. I can tell my hon. Friend, however, that thanks to this Labour Government— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is a great deal of noise in the Chamber. It is unfair to Members who are present for Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Hanson: Thanks to this Labour Government, expenditure is twice what it was in real terms when the Government came to power in 1997. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has secured not just a real-terms budget increase for the comprehensive spending review—which will ensure that we spend well over £9 billion a year in Northern Ireland—but an extra £100 million for Northern Ireland, along with a commitment to £1 billion of infrastructure each and every year for the next 10 years. There will be difficulties in connection with, for instance, the RPA, but they can be managed in-house by the Government, and I am sure that the incoming Executive will do a very good job.


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Assets Recovery Agency

10. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on the performance of the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland. [132692]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne).

Mr. Mackay: Will the Minister guarantee that when the merger is complete, tax fraud will remain within the agency’s remit rather than being handed over to the Treasury here in London? The agency will be much better able to deal with it, given the special circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Paul Goggins: When the Assets Recovery Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are merged, both will be the responsibility of the Home Office. However, the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an important aspect of the system, namely the incentivisation scheme whereby any agency that is able to recover assets can keep half of them when they are turned into cash. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining the scheme to establish whether there are ways in which it can be further enhanced.

Policing

11. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Whether it is the policy of the Government to distinguish between civic and political policing in Northern Ireland. [132693]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): The Government's policy is to deliver effective, impartial and accountable policing, supported by the entire community in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hands: Does the Secretary of State agree that it is not right for Sinn Fein Assembly Members to make a distinction between civic and political policing, as they appear to be doing?

Paul Goggins: Time is moving on. People may have made that distinction in the past, but it is not being made now. Sinn Fein has made an historic commitment to support policing and the rule of law, it is actively encouraging people from its communities to report criminality to the police, and in the very recent past it has indicated that its members intend to take up their positions on the Policing Board. There is no such distinction in Northern Ireland, nor should there be.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [133604] Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 25 April.


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The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, let me say that, sadly, I am sure the whole House will wish once again to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of Corporal Ben Leaning and Trooper Kristen Turton of The Queen’s Royal battlegroup, who were killed in Iraq last Thursday, and Kingsman Alan Jones of the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, killed in Iraq on Monday. Those young men were brave and committed soldiers; they died in the service of their country, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

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

Michael Fabricant: The whole House will wish to join the Prime Minister in offering condolences to the families of the brave soldiers who lost their lives, and will also be joyful in welcoming back the Staffordshire Regiment, which has just returned from Iraq.

Despite claims that a full consultation is taking place in Staffordshire, Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council has announced the closure of all residential care homes and day centres within the next two years. We recognise that change must come about, but it should be phased in over time. Many elderly people are worried about their future and have no relatives to look after them. What can the Prime Minister do to ensure that, in Staffordshire at least, this change is phased in gradually over time?

The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware that there have been meetings between my hon. Friend the care services Minister and local Members of Parliament, and I am happy to facilitate a similar meeting between the Minister and the hon. Gentleman. In fairness to Staffordshire council, it does understand that this has to be done in a planned and careful way. As I understand it, what it is trying to do is move from the current situation whereby it has responsibility for about 4,000 people, of whom about 10 per cent. are in its residential care homes. It wants to move those people into the independent sector and to improve community services, and it is willing to invest an extra £19 million to do that. It is important that the consultation is undertaken properly, and it has listened carefully to the representations that have been made. As the hon. Gentleman implied in his question, it also believes that it is right to make these changes in the interests of elderly people and those in residential care homes, but, of course, that must be done with a great deal of care.

Q2. [133605] Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South- West) (Lab): At the weekend, I met a group of my constituents whose lives have been made a misery over a long period by the antisocial behaviour of two neighbouring families. Will the Prime Minister outline the range of powers that are available to local councils to deal with such issues, and can he give any explanation of why Milton Keynes council seems to be so disinclined to take effective action in this case and in other similar cases? Could that be because it is Liberal Democrat controlled?

The Prime Minister: Yes, a full range of powers is now available under antisocial behaviour laws. The powers range from antisocial behaviour orders to
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dispersal orders, and to, for example, evicting people who are using homes for dealing drugs. They are important powers and where they are being used by local councils and the local police they are making a real difference to people’s lives. The Liberal Democrats voted against those powers—quite wrongly, because they help people—and it appears that even the leader of the Conservative party called them short-term and costly, bureaucratic and counter-productive. They are not counter-productive for families in communities who desperately need that help. The powers are necessary in order to make life workable for the vast majority of people in all communities who live in a law-abiding way.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in sending condolences to the friends and families of Ben Leaning, Kristen Turton and Alan Jones, who have been killed in Iraq in the past week. We all pay tribute to their memory.

Last night, Peter Clarke, one of the most senior officers in the Metropolitan police, spoke about leaks of anti-terrorism operations to the press. In his words, the people who do this

and “are beneath contempt”. He referred specifically to the recent investigations in Birmingham, where the press seemed to know about the arrests almost before they took place. Does the Prime Minister share both Mr. Clarke’s analysis and his concerns?

The Prime Minister: I share his analysis entirely, and let me say that I completely deprecate any leaks of sensitive information that can impede terrorist investigations, which are immensely important in protecting this country’s security. I understand that Peter Clarke has said today that he is not making any allegations in respect of anybody. However, what he is saying is that there can never be any justification for doing this, and I entirely agree.

Mr. Cameron: Both the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Attorney-General have been pressing this issue for some time, and Mr. Clarke’s remarks today show that their concerns were well-founded. Can the Prime Minister give a guarantee that leaks about the operation in Birmingham did not come from any Minister, civil servant or special adviser?

The Prime Minister: The only guarantee that I can give is that as far as I am aware, they did not, but let me make it absolutely clear that I completely condemn any leaks of sensitive information from whatever quarter. However, I do not think it right to leave an allegation suggesting that there may be a Minister who has done this, unless the right hon. Gentleman has actual evidence that that is so. I would have thought that everyone should understand that, particularly when the police are conducting very sensitive operations and there is the potential for significant loss of life, it is
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incredibly important that that information be kept confidential and tight, and as far as I am aware, that is the case.

Mr. Cameron: As the Prime Minister says, this is a very serious issue, so will he confirm that a full-scale leak inquiry is under way?

The Prime Minister: I am not going to confirm that. However, if there is any evidence at all that people have been engaged deliberately in leaking information of this sort, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will take the strongest possible action in respect of whomsoever it may be.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister says that he is pretty certain that it is not a Minister or a special adviser, but if he has not had a leak inquiry, how on earth can he know? I am sure that the Prime Minister understands the damage that the culture of leak and spin has done to his Government, and when it comes to national security, this can actually cost lives. So will he today—today—confirm that he will establish an independent leak inquiry led by a senior and independent figure: yes or no?

The Prime Minister: No, I will not confirm that, and for this very simple reason. If the right hon. Gentleman has evidence that someone has been involved in such a thing, I will of course have it properly investigated, but I am not going to have a situation in which he simply makes this allegation and leaves it hanging there, without any evidence to back it up whatever. If I were being unkind, I would call that a smear.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): The Prime Minister is committed to an NHS that delivers the right care to patients at the right time and in the right place. Will he show his commitment to the carrying out of a feasibility study regarding the establishment of an urgent care centre on the Ormskirk site of Southport and Ormskirk hospital? That would be much appreciated by those of my constituents who have campaigned long and hard for the return of such a service.

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, this is a matter for local primary care services and the local primary care trust to determine, but I understand that a full assessment is being made of the advantages of having a primary care assessment centre at Ormskirk. The importance of such centres is that they are part of bringing care closer to the community, of reducing some of the pressure on local hospitals, and of the different way in which we are delivering health care services in today’s world. As my hon. Friend also knows, there has been a dramatic fall in waiting times and lists in her area, along with the improved treatment of cancer and heart disease. It is important that we have primary care facilities that are appropriate for the type of care available in the 21st century. So I am pleased that this assessment is being made, and I wish it well.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I join the Prime Minister in his expressions, yet again, of sympathy and condolence.


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Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that Members of Parliament should be exempt from freedom of information legislation? Why should there be one law for MPs and a different law for everyone else?

The Prime Minister: I think that this is a matter for the House, which can make its view known about it. Since the Bill in question is a private Member’s Bill that is before the House, it would obviously not be appropriate for the Government to make a commitment one way or another.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Does the Prime Minister not understand that the failure of the Government to oppose this Bill, which emanates from a former Conservative Chief Whip, undermines their own legislation and simply persuades people outside here that Parliament has something to hide? Does the Prime Minister support this shoddy Bill: yes or no?

The Prime Minister: I am not going to express a view on this, but I will point out that in this House and elsewhere, we have one of the most transparent systems anywhere in the world. Occasionally, Members of Parliament should stand up for the public service that they give and do. [Interruption.] Well, I happen to think that the majority of Members of Parliament in this House—from whatever political party—do a good public service job in the interests of their constituents, and against the background of a more transparent system than most countries in the world have.

Q3. [133606] Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister agree that the re-opening of St. George’s hall by Prince Charles, the halving of unemployment and the 40 per cent. increase in Government funding for education in Liverpool show the Government’s commitment to the people of the city? As the people of Liverpool go to the polls, will my right hon. Friend suggest what additional support the Government could give to ensure that the city’s growing success is shared by all its citizens?

The Prime Minister: The story of the renaissance of Liverpool, including regeneration, the new proposals for schooling, which have increased results fantastically, and the fact that it will be the European capital of culture next year indicate that the Government’s huge and strong support for the city has yielded real benefits to the people over the past few years. The best thing that they could do is to vote Labour in the local elections.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I wish to return to the subject of the 125,000 people who lost their occupational pensions when their pension schemes collapsed. In the last week, the Minister for Pensions Reform has said explicitly that all those covered by the financial assistance scheme will get 80 per cent. of their pension. Vitally, he said that that 80 per cent. level of support will be from the taxpayer and will not depend on unclaimed assets. Of course, we would like 90 per cent. to be paid.

Given that thousands of those affected have already reached retirement age and are not getting the 80 per cent., will the Prime Minister look again at the issue of a Treasury loan so that he can start to make those payments straight away?


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