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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has frequent discussions with the First Minister, and I regularly meet the Assembly Rural Affairs Minister. A wide range of issues related to agriculture are discussed, including the sale and promotion of Welsh meat beyond Wales. Next week, I am due to attend the Welsh lamb presentation at the Royal Welsh agricultural show. I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me there to promote Welsh lamb.
Michael Fabricant: The Minister makes a tempting offer; I might do just that if I can borrow his ministerial car. I invite him to visit David Trant in Welshpool. He belongs to the Waitrose Welsh assured lamb scheme, which promotes Welsh lamb. Will the Minister join me in congratulating department stores and supermarkets such as Waitrose and others which promote Welsh lamb? I invite him to read the John Lewis Partnership gazette of 1 June, which outlines the plan in considerable detail.
Mr. Touhig: I shall commend the hon. Gentleman for a job with the Welsh Tourist Board; he does a very good job, and I know that he is also a Welsh learner. Congratulations! I also congratulate the gentleman whom he mentioned. It is important that we should take every opportunity to promote the good produce that we have in Wales. Only last week, we had a very successful food fair in Cardiff, and there are about 40 events between now and October to promote Welsh food, including Welsh lamb. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members visit Wales, where they will receive a warm welcome and taste some wonderful food.
The Prime Minister: I think I got the point, Mr. Speaker. Of course, it is not just about the money that is coming to the constituency of my hon. Friend and of other hon. Members; it is also about what the money that has gone in through the new deal has already delivered. To those who say that the extra investment delivers nothing, I would point to long-term youth unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency being down by 75 per cent. through the new deal, to the best primary school results that we have ever had, and to in-patient and out-patient waiting lists being down. That is a result of the investment, which is why it is so right to put it in, and such folly to take it out. Talking of which
[Interruption.] I am surprised that Labour Members get so upset about that, because those were the words of the Prime Minister in 1997. So, while we are on the effect of what he is actually spending and whether it is delivering, will he tell us how much recorded street crime has risen over the last 12 months?
The Prime Minister: Recorded street crime has indeed risen over the last 12 months. I do not know the precise figure, but it has risen. However, it is as a result of that that we are taking the necessary measures, including investing in our police and increasing the number of police on the beat. Even for street crime, it would be folly to take that investment in the police out.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister for ever says that he will be judged on exactly how effective the measures are that he is taking, but street crime has actually increased by more than 30 per cent. over the last year, and doubled in the last three years. So, presumably, by his own measure, he must now be failing. In the spending review of 2000, the Home Office promised to cut recorded robberies by 14 per cent. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the Government are now on track to achieve that as well?
The Prime Minister: What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that, as a result of the additional measures that we are taking on street crime, we will indeedas I have said beforeget street crime under control by the end of September, as we said we would. I think that he will see from the initiatives being taken, particularly the safer streets initiative in London, that we will do that.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister never lets the facts get in the way of a good bit of spin. He knows that we supported that legislation, and that we voted in favour of the confiscation of assets from criminals, particularly drug dealers. So instead of pretending the other case at the Dispatch Box, would he like to apologise and say that he was wrong?
The Prime Minister was asked a direct question. The answer to the question of whether the number of recorded robberies has risen is that it has increased by more than a quarter in the past year, so he is failing on that measure as well. He then referred to the pledge that he says he made in September. I have checked through the public service agreements and the comprehensive spending review, and I cannot find a single reference to the pledge that the Prime Minister made in April to reduce street crime to below its April levels by the end of September. Will he make that pledge again today?
The Prime Minister: I have just made it a moment ago, in the answer that I gave. [Interruption.] I did: I said that, as I indicated before, by the end of September we must have street crime under control. That is precisely why we are taking the initiatives that are necessary. That is why, for example, we are tightening up on bail, making sure that more police are on the streets and that magistrates courts work more effectively, and getting cases to court quicker. Let him now deal with this point. Each and every one of those initiativesmore police, better working of magistrates courts, better working of the criminal justice systemrequires extra investment. Let the right hon. Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box and commit himself to supporting that investment.
That is what the Prime Minister said in 1997, so every time his figures go wrong, there is failure on the streets, and violent crime and robberies rise, it is no good his saying, "We're just going to spend a bit more money and it's all going to be all right." That is his problem.
Back in April, the Prime Minister said not just that street crime would be under control; in an interview with Mr. Paxman on "Newsnight", he said that he would reduce the levels of street crime to below the April level. Instead of fiddling figures that he does not even include in his publications, will he now pledge to do just that?
The Prime Minister: I shall certainly repeat exactly what I said to Mr. Paxman. What is more, I agree that street crime has gone upI admitted that in my first answer to the question. However, I then described what we were doing to get it back down again, and exactly
Q2.  Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): My right hon. Friend will recall that, following the Fairchild decisionand while we were awaiting the House of Lords judgmentmy right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions initiated the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme to allow payments to be made to mesothelioma sufferers who had made claims against the company. Will he consider reopening or extending the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme to cover claimants who have made claims against Turner and Newall because the parent company, Federal Mogul, has gone to court in America to file for administration and it could be several years before the case is resolved? Will my right hon. Friend therefore consider advising that the scheme be extended to cover those claims?
The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend knows that we are considering representations that he and others have made. I know that he and other hon. Members have met the company's administrators and a meeting with representatives of the Department of Trade and Industry and others has been arranged. The Government have also been in discussion with the administrators, and understand that they are actively looking at ways in which urgent claims can be dealt with prior to the conclusion of the administration of Turner and Newall.
The best that I can tell my hon. Friend at this moment in time is that we are listening carefully to what he says. He knows about the technical and legal problems involved in extending coverage of the scheme, but we are taking an active interest in negotiations, and I hope that they can be brought to a successful conclusion.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): The United States Administration are taking the view that further military action against Iraq would not require new United Nations security resolutions. Does the Prime Minister agree?
The Prime Minister: We must certainly take any action in accordance with international law, but as the Foreign Secretary made clear when he spoke about this is the House a few months ago, that does not necessarily mean that there will be a new United Nations resolution. However, we will make sure that whatever we doas I say constantly, no decisions have yet been takenshould be in accordance with international law.
Mr. Kennedy: Turning to the role of the House, if in due course further military action is considered appropriate against Iraq and if British forces were involved, would that be subject both to the debate that the Prime Minister has pledged and to an affirmative supportive vote in the House of Commons?
The Prime Minister: As I said when I appeared before the Liaison Committee yesterday, at present we have no proposals to put before the House, but we will obviously consider how best to consult the House properly should
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): The Prime Minister will know that conditions such as leprosy and polio are generally treatable in a day clinic. The incidence of those diseases in south-east Asia, especially Laos, is increasing at an alarming rate due to the lack of power for vaccine fridges and medicine chests. Will my right hon. Friend use his considerable influence in international organisations to support a programme of supplying power from small-scale renewable energy to tackle that problem in certain locations?
The Prime Minister: I entirely understand and share my hon. Friend's concern about the issue, which, as he rightly points out, is a significant one in Asia. The global health fund of about $1.8 billion is available for use not just in Africa but elsewhere. I shall certainly look into the point that my hon. Friend made in the concluding part of his question.
Q3.  Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): In reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the Prime Minister admitted that robberies have increased substantiallythey have actually gone up by about a quarter. He said that by September they would be under control. Could he tell the House by how much he expects robberies to have fallen by September?
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): The Prime Minister will be aware of the success of URCsurban regeneration companieswhich have been set up in towns and cities throughout the land and are helping to encourage regeneration. Will he join me in calling for a URC to be set up in my constituency of Gloucester, where we are trying to push through £0.5 billion of regeneration and where a URC could make all the difference?
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister rightly told the House that one of the biggest challenges facing the G8 countries was conflict resolution in Africa. Is it not unfortunate that his Government continue to sell arms to African states? In particular, does he regret the fact that his Government sanctioned the sale of arms to all five combatants in the Congo?
The Prime Minister: We actually have very strict rules on the sale of weapons to conflict areas, but I take exception to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I think it important for this to be said clearly, and to be clearly on the record. The arms industry and related industries in this country employ about 100,000
Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth): I am sure that my right hon. Friend and all other Members will want to join me in expressing sadness at yesterday evening's tragic helicopter crash off Great Yarmouth. Our thoughts are certainly with the families and friends of those involved. The oil and gas industry today is a much safer environment in which to work, but tragedies of this kind always bring home to us the danger faced by the many hundreds of thousands of men and women who try to bring our gas and oil reserves ashore.
Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the emergency services, which responded immediately, and to the rig and ship workers, which did so as well? Will he also ensure that during the investigation no stone is left unturned to find the reason for the crash?
The Prime Minister: First, I am sure that the whole House would want to express deep sympathy and condolences to the families of those who died in the helicopter crash. Secondly, I pay fulsome tribute to the emergency services, which respondedas they always doin magnificent fashion. Thirdly, I know that an air accident investigation branch is looking carefully into the reasons for the accident. At present, obviously, we cannot speculate on the cause, but I assure my hon. Friend that we will leave no stone unturned.
Q4.  Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): The number of recorded robberies in Hertfordshire has risen by 34 per cent.by a thirdin just one year. If the Prime Minister will not try to give a straight answer to my parliamentary colleagues, will he at least give a straight answer in response to the fears of my constituents? Will he tell them why crime is rising for them?
The Prime Minister: I can do that. First, let us be quite clear: crime overall has fallen, not risen. It is true that there is a particular problem with street crime and violent crime, which is precisely why we have been working on it for the past few months. We have been hiring more police officers, which is important. We have been ensuring that we tighten the conditions relating to bail. We have also been ensuring that we make extra investment in such things as CCTVand, of course, there is the Proceeds of Crime Bill. The only unfortunate thing is that the Conservative party opposes each of the measures we take.
Q5.  Andy Burnham (Leigh): According to the chief medical officer, death rates in some communities in the north-west and north-east have not improved since the 1950s. Does the Prime Minister agree that that shocking statistic results from underfunding over decades, not just of the health service but of all our public services? Will
The Prime Minister: The review of the formula used in the allocation of resources in the national health service will indeed take account of the need to reduce health inequalities. My hon. Friend's constituency has obviously accumulated severe problems over a long period. That is precisely why it is important for investment in the health service not to be taken out, but to be kept going year upon year upon year. As my hon. Friend knows, by 200708 health spending in this country will be above the EU average. It is important for us to ensure that the investment continues, because it is the only way in which to make a defined and sustainable difference to people's health.
The Prime Minister: It will not have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's notice, nor anyone else's, that our stock market has fallen, as has every stock market around the world, including in America and Europe. The idea that that fall is unique to Britain is an indication only of the total opportunism of the Conservative party.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Early on, when he was first elected, the Prime Minister loved to take responsibility for a rising stock market. Strangely enough, it is now somebody else's faultas ever. I notice that the Prime Minister has not turned to the Chancellor for advice this time, but perhaps he ought to. Since that period in 1997, stock markets in Europe and the US have risen by 8 per cent., whereas ours is now down by 15 per cent.
The Prime Minister: I do believe that it is justified. What is more, when I read the debate on the subject the other day, I noted that the spokesman for the Conservative party was asked whether he would reverse the measure. He said that he would not, which renders the right hon. Gentleman's question slightly absurd. The idea that the stock market has fallen because of something to do with the British economy is incorrect, as stock markets all around Europe and America have fallen.
However, there are differences between the state of the UK economy now and a few years ago: we now have the lowest interest rates for about 30 years, the lowest unemployment for 25 years, and the lowest inflation rate in Europe. Another difference is the absence of that old Tory theme of boom and bustand thank goodness for that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this morning's attack was an attack on the peace process in Northern Ireland? In this very difficult week, will he guarantee to use his best endeavours to ensure that all parties to the peace process make the necessary sacrifices to sustain peace and our democratic institutions?
The Prime Minister: My sympathy goes to the officers involved, of course, and I join my hon. Friend in wishing them a speedy recovery. He is entirely right: the attack's purpose was to undermine the peace process. There is no doubt that, as the process moves forwardwhatever the difficulties involvedthe people who want to return to the sectarianism and brutality of the past want to try to disrupt it. The Police Service of Northern Ireland, for all the difficulties, marks a new approach to policing in Northern Ireland. I hope that, in time, it will be supported by all the main political parties there. When people attack officers of that police force, they are attacking the agreement itself. They are also attacking a future for Northern Ireland that is based on mutual respect and prosperity. I assure my hon. Friend that we will do everything that we can to sustain the peace process, as it is right for the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Q6.  Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): Does the Prime Minister recall telling the House on 15 October 1996 that the shortage of beds in the NHS was a "disgrace"? What word from his extensive repertoire would he now use to describe the fact that 131 beds in my local hospitals are currently affected by bed blocking?
The Prime Minister: Obviously, I am not familiar with the details of the hon. Gentleman's constituency. However, in the past year, there has been an increase in the number of NHS beds. Overall, the national figures show that bed blocking has fallen since 1997, and that is because last winter we put additional investment into the NHS. Whatever the problems in the hon. Gentleman's constituencywhether they are to do with the number of beds, nurses and doctors, or with local primary carethe answer, surely, is not to cut the investment going into his health care service. I suggest that he joins us in addressing those problems with the investment and reform programme and, in particular, supports the measures that the Chancellor announced on Monday. That might be a good idea not only for his constituents but for him.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North): There are parts of my constituency where people cannot sit in their own home in peace because of crime and antisocial behaviour, which is fuelled by the illegal sale of alcohol to young people. What will the Prime Minister do to clamp down on the irresponsible retailers who sell alcohol to children
The Prime Minister: We are toughening the penalties on the sale of alcohol to young people. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the problems of antisocial behaviour. That is one of the reasons that we introduced measures such as antisocial behaviour orders. It is unfortunate that the Conservative party is still apparently opposed to them. My hon. Friend will know that one of the things that is most important in dealing with antisocial behaviour is having extra numbers of police on the street, and the Conservative party is opposed to that as well.
Q7.  Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Prime Minister will know that the take-up of the MMR vaccination in London has now reached a record low, as instanced in my borough by the fact that only 70 per cent. of parents have given their children the jab. Is he aware that the number of cases of measles in our capital city has quadrupled over the past year? As those two events are not unconnected, will he take this opportunity of publicly dissociating himself from the remarks of the Mayor of London, who is advising London parents not to give their children the jab?
The Prime Minister: First, I do not agree with what was said by the Mayor and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not agree with some of what has been said by his hon. Friends. It should be made very clear that there is not a shred of evidence anywhere that the MMR jab is anything other than the right course to take. It is employed in 90 countries around the worldin America, in Europe and everywhereand it is essential that we retain it, and retain it in its present form, since that is the best way to get the coverage to deal with these diseases. I take that view very strongly; I am glad that the hon. Gentleman does too and perhaps, jointly, we can make those views clear to everyone.
Q8.  Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The Prime Minister will be aware that my constituency has seen a rising number of gunshot incidents, some of which have led to the murder of mainly young men. He is right to say that we need more police on the streets.
The Prime Minister: I would certainly be happy to do that. I congratulate Mothers Against Violence in Manchester on the work that they are doing. I hope, too, that they will see from the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make shortly that it is necessary to strengthen the protection for victims and witnesses. One of the problems with this type of violent crime, and gun crime in particular, is people's reluctance to come forward and give evidence. It is precisely for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will shortly be announcing measures to strengthen our criminal justice system.
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): Could the Prime Minister tell us whether there are any circumstances in which he would consider sharing sovereignty over his own constituents in Sedgefield? If, as I suspect, the answer is no, why does he seek to do so over the people of Gibraltar, whose only crime is loyalty to the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: As usual, that is a typical piece of opportunism by the Conservative party. The process began[Interruption.] The Brussels process was launched by the Conservative Government in 1984. The last time I was answering such a question, I did not have before me the full text of the 1984 communiqué, but I do now. This is what was signed up to by Mrs. Thatcher and the last Conservative Government: