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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): I have regular discussions with representatives of several organisations regarding rail performance in Wales, including Arriva and First Great Western.
Lembit Öpik: Given the Governments willingness to nationalise failing industries, will the Minister consider nationalising Arriva trains? If not, will he convene a summit with Liberal Democrat MPs, MPs from other parties and interested groups, including Arriva itself, on how to improve the poor service on the Cambrian line, and will he consider practical options such as combining infrastructure and operations management of the rail service?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me down the branch line of nationalisation, but at least not in to the failed sidings of Tory rail privatisation. He raises an important issue about the Cambrian line. In August 2007, the Deputy First Minister announced that the Welsh Assembly Government will spend £8
million on capital improvements on the line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury. That funding will be matched by £5 million from Network Rail. Of course, I am always more than willing to meet him and other Members who want to raise issues of vital concern to rail users in Wales.
Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): I speak as the chairwoman of the recently formed all-party group on rail in Wales. In light of the announcement made yesterday about franchise breaches by First Great Western trains, will the Minister meet the company to discuss cross-border issues?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, I undoubtedly will. I congratulate her on her leading role in the all-party group on rail in Wales. I am sure that she will do great service. On the announcement made in the papers today, in consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government, Arriva is to lease on a short-term basis five class 150/1 units to First Great Western that are not currently being deployed, for the Wales and borders franchise, but that sub-lease will be available to meet future demand and can be recalled at three months notice. I undertake to meet Arriva and First Great Western to discuss the issue.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Last October, the Under-Secretary of State said that he was keen to see the borderlands line between Wrexham and Bidston electrified, and that is crucial to the north Wales economy. He must be disappointed that the Plaid Assembly Minister totally omitted any mention of the scheme when laying out the Assemblys transport funding priorities for the next four years. Is that not an instance of Labour having sold out to Plaid in return for propping them up in government, to the extent of sacrificing an important infrastructure project?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Not at all, and I point out that the Welsh Assembly Government and Merseytravel have jointly commissioned Network Rail to undertake a study of the scope and cost of options for a full or partial electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line. The results of the study will be available sometime in spring 2008, and we await them with interest.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): The creative industries make a significant contribution to the economy of Wales, not just through the direct investment of funds in facilities and jobs, but through the creation and stimulation of subsidiary industries and other smaller businesses.
Budding David Leans and Nick Parks at Yale college and NEWIthe North East Wales Institute of Higher Educationare producing film-work and animation-work of the highest quality. The real challenge is to ensure that more people see that
work. Will my right hon. Friend meet representatives of broadcasting organisations in Wales and press them to showcase more new talent on our airwaves?
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues. The defence training academy at St. Athan will be a massive boost to south Wales, providing widespread benefits to the local economy.
John Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. When he next meets the First Minister, will he impress on him how vital it is to provide a road link to the M4 motorway by 2013, so that the whole of Wales can benefit from the record-breaking, multi-billion pound investment in training in my constituency, Vale of Glamorgan?
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am sorry to spoil the party of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) over there, but the fact is that the Minister will know that Metrix and the Ministry of Defence have just scrapped package 1 of the defence training review. Can the right hon. Gentleman give a 100 per cent. guarantee that package 2 is safe?
Mr. Murphy: No, I cannot give such a guaranteeI am not the Secretary of State for Defencebut what I can say to him is that the preferred bidder for package 2 could still be Metrix, but that package 1, so far as St. Athan is concerned, is absolutely safe, and that £11 billion is to be spent on St. Athan, the biggest ever investment in Wales by the Ministry of Defence.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Corporal Damian Mulvihill of 40 Commando Royal Marines, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. We owe him and others who have lost their lives a deep debt of gratitude.
Kelvin Hopkins: Last week the parliamentary Labour party was united in voting enthusiastically to nationalise a bank. On Friday two thirds of the parliamentary Labour party stayed in Westminster to vote for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller). After that vote we gathered in New Palace Yard for a team photograph and sang The Red Flag. Does my right hon. Friend accept that with more of the same, he will lead us to a famous victory at the next election?
The Prime Minister: I believe that the whole country believes that we were right to take the decisions that we took on Northern Rock. I also believe that the whole of the European Union, all 27 countries, want to see an agreement on agency workers. We are working throughout Europe to get such an agreement. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that since 1997 we have introduced the first legal national minimum wage, which has benefited millions of workers in this country. The unfortunate thing is that it was opposed by the Conservative party.
One of the burning issues this week is this place. Is it good value for money? Are we sufficiently transparent? Do we debate the issues that people care about? Do we do it in a way that switches them on, rather than turns them off? I wanted to ask the Prime Minister some questions about that. Let me start with pay. I have long believed that Members of Parliament should not vote for their own pay. I know that the Prime Minister has instituted a review. Will he put it beyond doubt today and give us a guarantee that MPs will not vote for their pay again?
The Prime Minister: I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the House has already agreed that MPs should not vote on their pay in future. Perhaps he should read the decisions that have been made by the House. On a general point, I agree with him. The message should go out today clearly that decisions in this country should be made in the Chamber of this House and not on the roof of this House. That is a very important message that should be sent out to those people who are protesting. As for pay, I hope we will reach an agreement in the summer.
Allied to the issue of pay is the issue of pensions. Many of our constituents look at our pension arrangements and, having seen that their final salary schemes have been cancelled [Interruption.] I
think people at home watching this want to know the answer to these questions. Is not the least that we should do to reassure people to close the parliamentary pension scheme to new members and to start again in the new Parliament?
The Prime Minister: On the first question, I remind the right hon. Gentleman, so that he is absolutely clear, that the House has voted for the decision about MPs pay to be taken out of the hands of MPs. It was a unanimous vote of the House of Commons. He has already supported that, as have we. On pensions, he can table that proposal as part of the discussions. It is one thing that can be looked at, but that must also be a decision of the House.
Allied to the questions of pay and pensions are the issues of allowances and expenses. Irrespective of what the information tribunal agrees for the past, does the Prime Minister agree with me that for the future, the very least we should do is have openness and transparency and the publication of the details and breakdown of allowances and expenses for all Members of Parliament?
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman had done his research, he would know that I have already written to the Speaker saying that that is exactly what I want to see. I wrote to the Speaker immediately after the case that was raised about one particular Member, and said that there had to be transparency on allowances. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is my position, and that will continue to be my position.
One of the things that most undermine faith and trust in politics is the fact that we make promises and then do not keep them. Today hundreds of people are marching on Parliament asking for the referendum that they were promised on the European constitutionnot just in our manifesto, but in everybodys manifesto. I know that the Prime Minister is not going to change his mind, but will he at least accept that it cannot be right to ask his own Members of Parliament, many of whom really feel a conscientious belief that they signed up to a manifesto, to vote against their consciences? Can that be right?
The Prime Minister: First of all, on the question of allowances, let us be absolutely clear about what happened. We voted as a House to refer this to a Committee of the House to look at these very matters. The right hon. Gentleman agreed that we should do so. I have sent in my views to the Speaker about what should be done; perhaps others can add their views too, to the Committee. But the right hon. Gentleman should remember that he agreed that a Committee should look at these matters, and that the judgment should not be pre-empted by decisions that he wants to make.
As far as the European referendum is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that in Brussels last summer the decision was made that the constitutional concept be abandoned. In other words, this is an amending treaty and not a constitutional treaty. We have said that there is no necessity now to have a referendum. That will be voted on in the House in the next few days. The question that he will have to answer is: when the House, if it does, votes against there being a referendum, is he going to insist on a referendum after ratification? Is he going to insist on renegotiating the treaty? Is that going to be the Conservative party position for the future?
I want to put to the Prime Minister one other point that could help to restore some invigoration in our politics. It is this: there is no doubt that one of the reasons why the American elections have caught peoples imagination is that night after night the contenders debate in live television debates. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the time for such live television debates at general election times has now come? Will he agree to hold television debates with the leaders of the main political parties so that people can see us discuss the issues, the policies and the challenges for the future of this country?
I come back to the question of the European referendum. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is demanding a European referendum; there are members of his party who say that now that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, there should be no referendum. He has not got unity in his party on this issue. He should face up to the vital fact that there is a disagreement about this issue, but the constitutional concept in Europe has now been abandoned.
Mr. Cameron: I have to say to the Prime Minister that if he really thinks that these exchanges once a week are a substitute for a proper television debate, then he is even more out of touch than I thought. We have to be honest with ourselves: not many people watch these exchanges, and not all those who do are hugely impressed with them. There are parliamentary systems that do have television debates; we have seen them in Italy, Australia and Poland. The Prime Minister has no objection in principle: when he was shadow Chancellor, he did a television debate against the then Chancellor of the Exchequerso I have to ask him: what on earth is he frightened of?
The Prime Minister: This is the man who makes speeches about the primacy of Parliament. This is the man who says that we should keep our promises, and also said that there would be an end to Punch and Judy politicsand what did he then do?
On the European referendum [ Interruption. ] The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the European referendum, so perhaps he will now answer the question: if we ratify the treaty, is he still committed to a referendum and still committed to renegotiating the treaty? The country will need to know the answers from him as well.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Since my grandmother and many other members of my family were murdered by the Nazis in a holocaust that slaughtered 6 million Jews, together with Gypsies, homosexuals and vast numbers of other innocent people, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Governments support for the Holocaust Educational Trusts Lessons from Auschwitz programme, which takes sixth-formers to see for themselves where and how these atrocities were committed? Will he condemn with scorn those who label as a gimmick an essential project to ensure that one of the vilest ever crimes against humanity will never be forgotten?
The Prime Minister: I will ensure that the Holocaust Educational Trust can continue its vital work and that thousands of school pupils can go to Auschwitz and see for themselves the horrors that happened and then report back to their schools. I would have hoped that there would be agreement in all parts of the House on this.
The NHS spends more than £300 million a year on anti-depressant drugs, which we learned yesterday probably do not help many of the people taking them. Is it not time the Prime Minister developed a mental health strategy that helps patients rather than pouring millions of pounds into the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry for drugs that do not even work?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should do more so that people are not dependent on the drugs that he is talking about. That is precisely why the Secretary of State for Health is investing in providing more therapists to help people. We have made a decision to employ 3,600 more, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support that.
Mr. Clegg: It is good to be here. It is a shame that the Prime Minister seeks to defend clapped-out 19th century procedures in this House, which are preventing the British people from[Hon. Members: Oh!]
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