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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 458: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2007


The Secretary of State was asked—

Energy Review

1. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues and Welsh Assembly Ministers following the energy review. (127774)

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. In the light of the energy review’s acknowledgment of nuclear power as an essential component of the energy mix, will he confirm that any proposal to replace the Wylfa power station with a new station would have his enthusiastic support?

Yes, and I have told the local Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), and the local county council that I back their request to have the replacement, Wylfa B, put in place. That will provide enormous opportunities for Anglesey.

Microgeneration is also an important facet of the energy mix. If I write to the Secretary of State, will he please investigate what has happened to the Dolgarrog wood-burning scheme, which would have provided energy for the whole of that part of the valley? It seems to have hit the buffers on funding. Will he liaise with his colleagues in the National Assembly to see whether that important model, which might be a template for many other places, can be restarted?

I would be happy to do that and to work with the hon. Gentleman to encourage microgeneration wherever possible. It is essential that Wales becomes a world leader in renewable energy. Whether in microgeneration of the kind that he describes, wind power, wave power, tidal power or the Severn barrage, Wales has a tremendous opportunity to be at the forefront of such developments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new research and enterprise partnership launched at Westminster yesterday by the university of Wales, Aberystwyth, and the university of Wales, Bangor, with its emphasis on the development of new technologies, products and services, will have the opportunity to contribute significantly to sustainable, energy-efficient development in Wales, the UK and internationally?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I commend her and the work going on at Bangor university, which I visited last year. I was enormously impressed by its attempt to make Wales a leader in the fight against climate change. We therefore hope that Opposition parties will back our policies to make sure that renewable, clean energy is the dominant energy supply in Wales.

The energy White Paper has still not been published, despite being promised for the beginning of this year. That delay is caused by the Government’s admitted failures to consult over the energy review. It is now certain that Wylfa nuclear power station will close in 2010. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how the Government propose to make up for the loss of generating capacity as a result of Wylfa’s closure? Why did the Government not act sooner to formulate their energy policy so as to secure the electricity supply in Wales?

We are confident that an electricity supply will be secured for Wales. It will certainly be secured if the hon. Gentleman changes his policy on the giant Gwynt-y-Môr wind farm project 9 miles off the north Wales coast, which is capable of powering nearly half the households in Wales. He has opposed that, and the Leader of the Opposition has opposed it, despite putting a little windmill on his home in Notting Hill—a lot of good that will do. There is a prospect of massive electricity generation—

Environmental Liability Directive

2. What discussions he has had with the First Minister and ministerial colleagues on the implementation of the environmental liability directive. (127775)

My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with the First Minister and ministerial colleagues on a range of issues. The Welsh Assembly Government are currently considering responses to the consultation on options and will announce their conclusions later this year.

An ELD can only fully implement the “polluter pays” principle if there is strict liability for all occupational activities on land that lead to biodiversity damage. It is therefore regrettable that a weak English regime is proposed that exempts some hazardous genetically modified organism operations from financial penalties. Will the Minister congratulate Welsh Assembly Ministers on their more robust ELD line, which removes those permitted get-outs, and ask them to encourage their counterparts on this side of Offa’s Dyke to take a firmer stance, without exclusions, in the interests of environmental protection?

My hon. Friend is right that the directive establishes strict liability for environmental damage to land, water, protected species and habitats. In line with the “polluter pays” principle, offenders will be required to remedy any damage caused. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Assembly Government are considering responses to the consultation before deciding how to move forward. A second consultation will focus on draft regulations. The same high standards are being applied across England and Wales. DEFRA and the Assembly Government are liaising closely on implementing the directive. The details of how it will be implemented in Wales are a matter for the Assembly Government. I will raise his concern with DEFRA Ministers, and I will also meet Carwyn Jones, the Minister in the Assembly Government with responsibility for those matters, tomorrow.

Nation states have a duty under the ELD to include European designations of protection, but no such duty to include national designations. It appears that Wales will take a more inclusive approach. Many designations have cross-border significance, and DEFRA will have an input there as well. Will the Minister urge DEFRA to take a more inclusive approach to ELDs, and ensure that any cross-border designations are dealt with appropriately?

Not only will the proposed directive cover the issue, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, domestic legislation already provides extensive protection for the environment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to contribute to the consultation and make his point then: all responses will be considered carefully. However, I will raise his concerns with the relevant DEFRA Minister, along with those of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor).

Royal Naval Armaments Depot Llangennech

3. What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the closure of Royal Naval Armaments Depot Llangennech. (127776)

Can the Secretary of State explain why, when central Government Departments such as the Ministry of Defence—or, indeed, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury—cut jobs, they cut them in places like Carmarthenshire or Pembrokeshire, which need them most, whereas when they create jobs they create them outside the convergence fund region, in the places that need them least? Is it not about time that the Government had a policy for west Wales, and indeed for all Wales, so that jobs can be created throughout the nation?

I agree that we should be creating jobs throughout the nation, and in fact we are doing so. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in west Wales and the valleys—he represents a valleys constituency, as I do—unemployment has fallen and more jobs have been created. The Llangennech example is part of a restructuring of the Ministry of Defence, and we are working with all concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) has visited the site, and the local Assembly Member, Catherine Thomas, is involved with the unions and work force.

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. What would really hit jobs in Wales would be any chance of Plaid Cymru’s bankrupt economic policies holding sway there.

MOD Llangennech—locally known as the RN—has been an integral part of the community for several generations. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give that if the MOD leaves Llangennech and the site is disposed of, full consideration will be given to making part of it a community facility, as well as providing the maximum possible support for those who may lose their jobs after many years of loyal service?

As I said earlier, my hon. Friend has been extremely active in defending the aspirations of the local community. I know that she will take the matter up with the Defence Minister responsible for such matters, and we in the Wales Office will be sure to support her in her objective.

Automotive Industry

4. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the future of the automotive industry in Wales. (127777)

I accept that some automotive companies have been relocated from Wales to eastern Europe, but does my hon. Friend accept that there have been major expansions and relocations within Wales? There has been what the Western Mail has called a “mini-surge” for the Welsh automotive industry. I am thinking particularly of a company called Mollertech, in the borough of Caerphilly. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that that is an indication of the strength and success of the Welsh economy?

Yes, indeed. Wales now has record levels of employment, and part of that success is due to investment in the automotive sector there. My hon. Friend mentioned the Mollertech investment, which will create 99 jobs in Caerphilly with a £10.7 million expansion and support from the Welsh Assembly Government. Ford Bridgend is creating more than 200 posts over the next two years with a £100 million investment; Toyota is investing about £100 million in its Deeside plant, safeguarding 680 jobs; and Takao Europe Manufacturing is investing £3.2 million, which will create 100 jobs in Ebbw Vale. It is clear that, having gone through a particularly difficult period, the automotive industry is now seeing the benefits of expansion and investment, which are safeguarding existing jobs and creating new ones.

The Minister must not be complacent, because in each year of the Labour Government manufacturing jobs have been lost in Wales. Ford Bridgend employs more than 1,600 workers and has made more than 13 million engines since 1980 when it came into being, including the world-beating Land Rover engine. In an hour’s time, in an attempt to appear green, the Chancellor will double the taxes on so-called 4x4s. What effect does the Minister estimate that that will have on jobs at that plant, and also on the incomes of our hard-pressed Welsh farmers, who rely on such vehicles?

The hon. Lady will have to be patient and wait to hear what announcements the Chancellor makes in a little over half an hour’s time. I am surprised that she implies that there is no real improvement in, and investment going into, the automotive industry. I have listed the successes that we have had in recent years. Frankly, the last thing that the Welsh economy and Welsh business need is a return to the failed Tory policies—[Interruption.] Those failed policies led to two recessions—[Interruption.] They led to two recessions since the war and 160,000 unemployed in Wales—

Aerospace Industry

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the contribution of the aerospace industry to the economy of Wales. (127778)

I have regular discussions with the First Minister concerning the Welsh economy, including the importance of the aerospace industry to it.

Last Friday, I attended a rally of about 1,000 Airbus workers from Broughton who were concerned about their future. I ask my right hon. Friend to press the Assembly Government and the Department of Trade and Industry to invest further in research and development in composite materials in order to secure the United Kingdom’s position as world leader in wing-building technology.

I will be happy to continue to work with my hon. Friend to achieve that objective. I applaud him for joining many of his constituents at that rally. I believe that the future of Airbus is secure. It is the jewel in the crown of the economy of that part of Wales and nearby across the border in England, and it will continue to get the support of both the Welsh Assembly Government and the Government at Westminster.

On that point, does the Secretary of State agree that Airbus in Broughton has achieved its remarkable success through research and development investment in wing technology, and that that, together with a superb work force, has secured the contract for the A350 composite wing? Will he join me in backing Broughton’s goal of winning the wing contract for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft, which would guarantee a world-class role for Wales in aerospace technology for decades to come?

Indeed; I am happy to do so. I also emphasise that although provision has been made for job reductions at Airbus Broughton, none of them is on the engineering or production side; they have been made to enable Airbus to be much more competitive and to compete with Boeing, which I know it will be able to do successfully, partly for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given.

We all agree that Airbus is a fine company, but can the Secretary of State help me on the following point? Because of direct political lobbying last month by German politicians, Wales lost out on, and Germany won, the wing-equipping work for the new A350 XWB. Can the Secretary of State reassure me and the workers at Airbus in north Wales that the reports that our Government dithered and made only weak representations at the last minute are untrue, and if they are untrue will he prove it by immediately publishing the details of the case that the Government made to Airbus and EADS—the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company—on behalf of Wales and the UK?

That is just a load of rubbish. The hon. Lady clearly does not know what is going on at Airbus. The truth is that Airbus has extra work for its wings as a result of the deal negotiated. The management and unions there are extremely confident about its future, not least because during the past 10 years during which it has succeeded we have had the best economic climate for Airbus and Welsh business ever in our history—and that is because we have had the best Chancellor for British business and Welsh business ever in our history as well.

Welsh Border (Governance)

6. What steps he is taking to help improve relations between the National Assembly for Wales and English local authorities on the Welsh border. (127779)

The hon. Gentleman will know of the recent memorandum of understanding between the West Midlands regional assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government. Rural communities in mid-Wales, Shropshire and Herefordshire share many interests, and it makes sense for them to co-operate where appropriate.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He has already spoken to me about this issue, and he knows how concerned I am for my constituents who live right on the Welsh border, because of the differences in funding from the Welsh Assembly for services for Welsh citizens who cross the border to use facilities such as the Royal Shrewsbury hospital. He knows that my hospital loses £2 million a year because of the difference in funding from the Welsh Assembly. Will he please ask the Assembly to increase co-operation with English authorities on our side of the border, to make sure that the treatment of citizens is fairer on both sides?

From what I gather, the hon. Gentleman wants to see further investment, but it certainly will not come from him and his party, given their policies. The memorandum of understanding outlines the commitment of both organisations to building stronger cross-border collaboration in policy and service delivery. Cross-border working has been highlighted as a key priority for each of the Wales spatial plan areas. An official level working group has been established, which led to the memorandum of understanding, and I am happy to convey the hon. Gentleman’s further suggestion to Welsh Ministers when I meet them. I know that the Welsh Assembly Government share the hon. Gentleman’s concern to ensure proper co-operation on cross-border issues.

Defence Bases

7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on spending on defence bases in Wales. (127780)

The development of the St. Athan defence training establishment brings great potential to my Bridgend constituency. Will my right hon. Friend agree to hold discussions with the First Minister to ensure that an appropriate skills base is developed at Bridgend college, so that such employment opportunities can be grabbed by my constituents? [Interruption.]

Yes, I will happily do so. As a result of the excellent programme that Welsh Labour has drawn up for the next Assembly Government, new skills academies will provide key industries, including the St. Athan project, with access to excellence in training and learning. My hon. Friend can maximise the potential of local further education and training opportunities in her constituency by working with the Welsh Assembly Government, and I am happy to help facilitate that. [Interruption.]

Order. I ask hon. Members to come to order. This is not fair to those who wish to participate in Wales questions.


8. What recent meetings he has had with ministerial colleagues and others on the number of people using the railways in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (127781)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet ministerial colleagues and others to discuss issues affecting Wales, including rail services. There has been a very encouraging rise in rail use over recent years. There are now more than 1 billion passenger journeys every year throughout the UK—a 35 per cent. increase on the 1995-96 figure.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Labour’s extra investment in north Wales has resulted in improved services and increased demand. However, he will be aware of Virgin Trains’ plan to replace the Pendolino trains with Super Voyagers post-2008. Will he agree to meet me and a small delegation to discuss this issue in detail, to ensure that we get the improved services on board that such demand requires?

Yes, I am more than happy to meet a delegation led by my hon. Friend. As he says, Virgin is replacing the Pendolino carriages on the north Wales route with the more reliable Voyager trains. Although the Voyager carriages have fewer seats, there will be no decrease in service because there will be more trains and therefore more seats, and a better service. I know that he met Virgin recently to discuss these matters, and I understand that a follow-up meeting has been arranged for a few months, but as I said, I will certainly meet him and his delegation to discuss these matters.

Notwithstanding the rosy picture that the Minister has painted, does he agree that there are particular problems on the mid-Wales and Cambrian coastline lines, and will he convey to the Assembly Government and his ministerial colleagues the concerns of many of my constituents about a service characterised by clapped-out rolling stock, overcrowded trains and missed connections? That is the reality of train use in mid-Wales.

While I understand that there are problems throughout the rail network, the issue is one of demand and supply. We are seeing a rapid increase in rail use and the rail companies are lagging behind with their investment. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have announced a further 1,000 carriages over the next few years, and the Welsh Assembly Government are putting in a further £1. 6 million to reduce overcrowding on the Cambrian main line. I am sure that he will see an improvement in the near future.

Defence Industry

Around 6,000 people are employed either directly by the Ministry of Defence or as a result of MOD direct equipment and non-equipment expenditure in Wales. Figures for indirect employment are not available.

Wales may represent only 4.5 per cent. of the British population, but we provide 9 per cent. of the British armed forces. In addition to the figures that the Secretary of State announced just now, we will get another 5,500 jobs in St. Athan, thanks to the new contract that we have just won for Wales. Should not we in Wales be proud of our contribution to the British armed forces, rather than try to get them thrown out of their bases in Wales, as some people in Plaid Cymru would like?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The St. Athan project, and all the defence investment in Wales that is of such benefit to jobs and the Welsh economy, comes as a result of the strong partnership between Westminster and Wales, between our Labour Government here and the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff Bay. It is as a result of that partnership that we will continue to build a strong Welsh economy, unlike Plaid Cymru’s president, who wants all Army activity and defence investment, including training, removed from Wales.

Dee Estuary

10. What recent discussions he has held with the First Secretary on management of the Dee estuary. (127783)

My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with the First Minister to discuss a range of issues, including marine and environmental matters.

My hon. Friend will recognise that the Dee estuary is a globally important environmental site and that when in the late 1990s a decision was taken on dredging in the estuary it was done on the basis of a balance between economy and ecology. Can he assure me that when a new application comes in for further dredging, he will take a balanced view and consult all the agencies on it?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for pressing this issue regularly. It is important that we do everything that we can to protect the Airbus jobs at Broughton on which thousands of people in North Wales and in constituencies such as his depend. I understand that the Welsh Assembly Government, the Environment Agency and the Marine Fisheries Agency met recently to agree a plan and timetable for consideration of new consents, and those will be required by August this year. They have been in contact with the Port of Mostyn throughout the duration of the existing consents, and the port has been apprised of the environmental reports that will be required in support of the new application.


11. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on promoting tourism transport links in south Wales. (127785)

My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Assembly Government colleagues about a range of matters. Encouraging visitors to use sustainable forms of transport is a key aim of the Assembly Government’s tourism and transport strategies.

When my hon. Friend next meets colleagues in the Assembly, could he make representations on the Swansea-Cork ferry? As he will be aware, it has recently been reintroduced as a lorry service, but given its role in supporting tourism in the city, the passenger ferry should be reintroduced as soon as possible.

I will meet Andrew Davies, the Minister with responsibility for such matters, next Monday. My hon. Friend is right: tourists spend more than £8 million a day on trips to Wales, and about 100,000 people in Wales—around 9 per cent. of the work force—are employed in tourism. The reintroduction of the new freight-only ferry is welcome, but I understand that Swansea Cork Ferries intends to resume a full passenger service when it has purchased a new vessel. However, I shall discuss those matters with Andrew Davies next week.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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

Every year, approximately 33,000 pedestrians are killed or injured in road accidents, yet the Department for Transport has no idea how many accidents are caused by uninsured or disqualified drivers. For example, over a four-year period Sajjid Hussain from Rochdale—

Order. Supplementary questions should be brief. I think that the Prime Minister will be able to answer.

How we deal with fatalities and injuries arising from road accidents is a very important matter. Over the past few years, the number of fatalities has fallen significantly, especially among children. That is a major achievement, but the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there are too many people without proper insurance on our roads. That is one reason why we are looking at ways to toughen the penalties for people who drive without insurance, and it is also why the police are able to make spot checks to discover who those drivers are.

My right hon. Friend is also First Lord of the Treasury, so may I ask him which of the following he finds preferable: a Chancellor of the Exchequer who follows policies imposed on him by Whitehall mandarins that drive us into the exchange rate mechanism and create economic havoc, or one who carries out Labour party policies that have created record employment levels and unparalleled prosperity for this country?

My right hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. Some people remember that, under the Conservatives, we had Black Wednesday, interest rates at 15 per cent., 3 million unemployed and an economy in recession. This Chancellor has delivered the longest period of economic growth in our history and we should be proud of that.

I do not know why the Home Secretary is smiling—he will soon be running a power station in Siberia.

The beating of Morgan Tsvangirai last week demonstrated the depths to which Zimbabwe has sunk under Robert Mugabe. Will the Prime Minister confirm what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday—that the Government will press the EU for an extension of sanctions against Zimbabwe? Specifically, what will he do to make sure that that happens?

We will press the EU to widen the political sanctions that were introduced in 2002 very much as a result of prompting by Britain. We will seek to extend the assets freeze and travel ban as far as we can, but it is also important that we take action in the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council. We will be urging partners in both those institutions to make strong statements against what is happening in Zimbabwe, because that is appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for the people of Zimbabwe.

I am grateful for that answer, but may I press the Prime Minister specifically on how the sanctions will be widened? Will he make sure that the scope of the assets freeze is widened, and that EU visas and residence permits for those on the EU sanctions list are cancelled? In addition, will he ensure that the governor of Zimbabwe’s central bank is added to the list? Crucially, will he also ensure that none of those people, including Mugabe, is invited to the EU-African Union summit later this year?

In respect of the summit, the very reason it has not taken place for a significant period of time has been problems over Zimbabwe. However, as well as extending sanctions on assets, the travel ban and so on, the most important thing is for us to make sure that other African countries, particularly in the neighbourhood of Zimbabwe, do everything they possibly can to make it clear that this is a disaster not just for the people of Zimbabwe but for the reputation of good governance in Africa.

The right hon. Gentleman and I met the President of Ghana last week. Ghana is a country that has got on its feet, held democratic elections and is doing extremely well, giving an example of model governance to the rest of Africa. It will be tragic for the reputation of Africa if Zimbabwe is allowed to remain in the state it is in.

Specifically on that point, will the Prime Minister be having further discussions with Thabo Mbeki on that vital issue? What does he think can be done throughout South Africa and across the whole international community to isolate that despotic regime and ensure that it is no longer able to bring desolation, poverty and tyranny to the people of Zimbabwe?

Obviously, we will do everything we can with the South African Government and others. In addition, the UK Government and therefore, through the Government’s financial support to people in Zimbabwe, the UK people have provided £140 million over the past five years to try to help the poorest people in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Government say that we are not prepared to help with land resettlement, but we have said that we will set aside a specific sum to help with the problem, provided that the money is routed through the UN Development Programme and not through the Zimbabwean Government.

Let us be clear, however. The solution to Zimbabwe, ultimately, will not come simply through pressure applied by Britain. Pressure has to be applied within Africa, in particular in the African Union, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will continue to do all we can to make sure that Africa realises that it is a responsibility for Africa as well as for the Zimbabwean Government.

I am sure the whole House will unite in sending sympathy to the family of my constituent, Kodjo Yenga, who is yet another of the teenagers who have met a violent death on the streets of London in recent weeks. Is my right hon. Friend aware that far too many children and young people fear violence, crime and bullying on the streets, and even in our schools? Does he agree that although effective policing and strong deterrents for violent crime play a vital role, it is also crucial that we redouble our efforts to engage with our young people, to talk to them and invest in strategies that will deter them from violent crime and the gang culture?

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says. However, it is important to recognise that in London overall violent crime was down by more than 5 per cent. last year and gun crime was down by almost 14 per cent. In addition, we are taking new measures on knives and the use of knives under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It is also important to recognise that the problem is specific to specific cultures in specific of our inner cities, so we have to take very specific measures in respect, obviously, of the help and support we give young people, but also where families are dysfunctional and out of control and causing real problems to the whole of their neighbourhood. We shall outline some of those proposals in the coming weeks.

I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy from the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on behalf of her constituent.

Is the Prime Minister disappointed that after 10 years in government the gap in wealth between the rich and the poor in this country is greater than it was under Margaret Thatcher?

That is simply not correct. [Interruption.] No, it is not. It is absolutely correct that wealthy people have got wealthier, but it is also correct that the poorest have got wealthier, too. Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman how they have got wealthier. [Hon. Members: “The gap!”] I am sorry, he is absolutely wrong. Those at the bottom end have actually done extremely well over the last 10 years. Let me tell him why—[Interruption.] Tories shake their heads, but people have done well because of the minimum wage, which the Tories opposed. They have done well because of the tax credits, which the Tories opposed. They have done well because of extra child benefit, which the Tories opposed. I do not know whether the Lib Dems ever had policy positions on any of those things.

Let us be absolutely clear. The average family, particularly with children, has done better under this Government. We have not penalised high earners, but we have helped the lowest earners a great deal.

Will the Prime Minister engage with the argument? How can he possibly be satisfied when the poorest in this country pay a higher proportion of their income in taxation than the richest? How can that possibly be fair?

That is simply not correct. [Interruption.] No, it is not correct. As a result—[Interruption.] Sorry, but as a result of the measures that we have taken, families who are on the lowest incomes do not pay tax until far higher up the income scale than they used to. If we look at how the lowest earners are treated in this country, we see that it is infinitely better than 10 years ago. It now compares very well with other European countries. So as well as the Chancellor having delivered the highest employment rate, the lowest unemployment for 30 years, low interest rates, and the strongest economic growth, he has done a lot for income inequality too.

In a diverse constituency such as Tooting, a good museum can be invaluable in teaching young people in a stimulating way about local history and local heritage. It can give young people a real sense of belonging. Despite a generous grant settlement, Wandsworth council is considering closing down Wandsworth museum. The council meets next week to make its final decision. What does the Prime Minister think about a local council risking community cohesion and choosing tax cuts over public services?

The museums do an immense amount of good for our young people and the broader community. As a result of our introducing free entry for our national museums, we have had millions more people going to museums—some of them from some of the lowest-income families. What my hon. Friend draws attention to is the reality of Tory government.

Q2. In my constituency, local arts organisations such as Beaford Arts and the Plough theatre and dozens of community, sports and charitable organisations are doing immensely valuable work for the rural communities that they serve. What can the Prime Minister say to reassure them that that work will not be damaged by the draining of lottery funds to the Olympic games? (128692)

We will certainly make sure that those projects are not the casualty of any problems to do with funding. As a matter of fact, we have already said that projects that have got funding agreed will continue to have that funding agreed. In addition to that, the core funding for the arts has gone up by some 73 per cent. in real terms since we came to power. The reason why a lot of those projects are supported in the hon. and learned Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere is precisely the investment that we have made.

Q3. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a wealth of independent evidence that the Labour party’s and Labour’s Government’s commitment to education over the last 10 years has borne fruit right across the educational spectrum? But is he also aware that there is still a real problem with staying-on rates at 16 and the number of young people not in education, employment or training? Will he continue to campaign and have the right policies to keep young people in work, employment, and training, and will he put his back—his efforts—into the new diplomas that we all want to come in from September 2008? (128693)

Yes. In particular, obviously, we will keep the investment going in our schools and also in the apprenticeship programmes. We will make sure, as I think that my hon. Friend will find from later announcements, that we do even more to encourage young people to stay on at school and to go into proper training. Of course, it is important that we provide the proper training for them, and that is why the quadrupling of the number of apprenticeships since 1997 has been very important. I was told yesterday, when visiting the Department for Education and Skills, that more new schools have been built in the last five years than were built in the previous 25. Going round the country, I can see, as I am sure he can, how the programme for refurbishing and rebuilding every school in the country is not just doing wonders for pupils, but is making sure that our school results go up, so that, whereas in 1997 there were only about 80 schools with over 70 per cent. of pupils getting five good GCSEs, the figure is now over 600.

The 200th anniversary of the ending of the slave trade in the British empire is the right time to acknowledge the pain and devastation that was caused by that evil trade. Does the Prime Minister agree that the bicentenary should also be a reminder of those who are still suffering slavery in our world today? Will he confirm that 120,000 women are trafficked for sex in Europe every year and that some European countries have named Britain as the No. 1 destination? Does he think that that is accurate?

I do not know whether that is an accurate description—I certainly hope not. However, I do know that on Friday we will sign the convention on human trafficking. We will also ensure, through the measures that we are taking, especially in relation to serious and organised crime, that we do everything that we can not only to bring to justice those engaged in this appalling activity, but to try to disrupt those people’s activities by seizing their assets. When new measures on the seizure of assets and organised crime are proposed, I very much hope that we will get the full support of the House.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister will be signing the EU convention, as we suggested earlier this year.

Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the most useful things that we can do to end this sickening trade is to ensure that when women flee their captors, there is a safe place for them to go? Will he join me in praising the work of voluntary sector organisations, such as Sister Ann Teresa’s, that provide safe places up and down the country? Instead of listening to the man who is about to go off to the power station, will he make sure that the Government do all that they can to support those excellent voluntary bodies?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was pointing out that it is all very well for the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to say that he is in favour of supporting the voluntary sector and voluntary bodies, but he voted against the national offender management service Bill, which will allow people in precisely the situation that he describes to be helped by the voluntary sector. As a result of the additional funding that we have given to many of these voluntary bodies, we are able to help women in that situation. It is also important that they recognise that they will not be at a disadvantage if they come forward to give evidence against the people who have trafficked them. Part of the problem is that a lot of these women are ignorant of what is going to happen when they get to this country, and they are then very frightened of what will happen if they give evidence against the people who have trafficked them.

Does my right hon. Friend also accept that opportunities for all young people, especially those engaged in sport, and the regeneration of east London are priceless?

I agree with both the first and the second part of what my hon. Friend says. The most important thing to understand is that the Olympics will not merely be a huge showcase for the country, but that they will result in thousands of jobs being created, thousands of new homes being built and the development of state-of-the-art facilities that will be there for the whole country. The Olympics will benefit people in my constituency and her constituency, as well as people in London. They are a fantastic thing for the country, and I know that the country is proud of them.

Q4. The Prime Minister will be aware that the Government’s target for ambulances responding to life-threatening emergencies is that they should reach 75 per cent. of such cases in eight minutes. The local ambulance trust in my constituency manages to reach only 45 per cent. of such life-threatening emergencies in eight minutes. I do not think that that is good enough. What does the Prime Minister intend to do about it? (128694)

In fairness to the ambulance and paramedic services in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I think that he will find that they will tell him that they have improved considerably over the past few years. Massive investment is going into our ambulance services and paramedics, although of course we always have to improve on it. However, I heard for myself the other day from people who had been treated for heart disease that as a result of the work done by paramedics today, as well as the additional number of consultants, doctors and nurses working on heart disease, we have saved some 100,000 lives over the past 10 years. I do not doubt that there are significant improvements still to be made, but the health service in the hon. Gentleman’s area and others is getting better.

Since the European Union will this weekend be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Rome, and since the Prime Minister will be attending the European Council meeting in June, can he confirm that the recent agenda on the environment is one that can unite all the peoples of Europe in this continued forward march?

As I pointed out to the House the other day, I think that it is very important that the issue of climate change should become a major question and challenge for the European Union. We have now agreed a very ambitious and bold set of targets. As I pointed out to the House—as it is slightly fuller now than it was for the last European statement, I might just repeat it—there was one member of the European Council who was against including climate change as one of the forward projects of the European Union, and that was the Czech Prime Minister.

Q5. Will the Prime Minister join me in supporting the National Autistic Society’s campaign to “make schools make sense”, and will he agree to meet me and a leading campaigner, Ivan Corea from my constituency, to discuss the inadequacies of services across the country? (128695)

I do not know enough about the details of that particular campaign to give an endorsement to it, but I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and the campaign to discuss it. Autism is a very serious issue that has to be taken seriously by our medical services and schools.

Q6. Does the Prime Minister agree that the cause of efficient energy use in future will be better served by encouraging energy companies to enter into contracts with consumers, in which they agree to invest in methods of reducing energy use and to share the savings? Would that not be better than the companies continuing to endeavour to sell as much energy as possible to customers? Is he pressing for progress in developing ways of doing that, as suggested and outlined in the energy review? (128696)

There is no doubt at all that it will be impossible to meet our CO2 emissions targets unless we also do much more on energy efficiency. My hon. Friend will know of the very strict new regulations on energy efficiency for the building of new homes. Work is being done by the Carbon Trust and others, and obviously there are plans to switch to low-energy light bulbs and so on that are immensely important. One fact that shows the significance of small changes is the fact that if every home had at least three low-energy light bulbs, it would save the amount of energy used for the whole country’s street lighting, so there is a massive amount that we can do. Again, over the next few weeks, we will announce further proposals on that issue.

Will the Prime Minister kindly explain why, in relation to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, he has treated the House of Commons with contempt, and why, in relation to the question of unequal treatment, he has given those who stand for gay rights preference over those who are concerned with conscience, family and religion?

I am afraid that I just do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. First of all, we have had a very full debate on the issue in public, and we have followed exactly the procedure that we said we would follow in relation to the regulations. I am afraid that in the end there is a basic choice; he takes the view that there should be discrimination against gay people in respect of this—

Well, it is no use him shaking his head; that is the impact of voting against the regulations. I happen to think that we can, if we are sensible, find a way of preventing discrimination against gay people, while allowing Catholic adoption agencies to carry on doing the excellent work that they do. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I believe that we have struck the right balance, and I think that most sensible people would agree with it.

Q7. What progress has been made to widen and deepen the EU emissions trading scheme, particularly in respect of aviation; and is it not the case that international agreements of that kind will have greater effect in reducing carbon emissions than proposed plans to restrict individual travellers? (128697)

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says, which is why I am opposed to the Opposition’s proposals to—I think—put VAT on domestic flights. We have got to be very clear about this: the fact is that people are going to travel. Indeed, there is no possibility whatever of trying to restrict access to airlines now, in a modern world where people want that access. I think that the right way of dealing with the issue, as my hon. Friend rightly implies, is to deal with it within the European Union emissions trading system. It allows us to bring aviation within that system, which we will do from 2011 onwards, and it allows us therefore to move in concert with other countries. If we end up penalising our passengers in this country, it will do us no good at all.

Q8. We all want to be cleaner and greener, and have a cleaner and greener environment, but in Hertfordshire, we have massive road congestion, groaning infrastructure and high pollution. St. Albans has one of the largest CO2 footprints in Hertfordshire, so will the Government listen to my residents’ concerns, and stop ratcheting up the housing totals that are imposed on us? (128698)

I understand why the hon. Lady raises that concern, but the truth of the matter is that we need more homes in the south and elsewhere, particularly for couples and first-time buyers who need to get a foot on the first rung of the housing ladder. We will not be able to deal with the housing problems of an expanded number of households unless we build new homes. We will protect the green belt—in fact, we have increased it. We have dramatically increased the amount of new build on brownfield sites, but it is not a realistic policy, I am afraid, to say that there will be no more house building in the south-east.

I wonder whether the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to tell the House what plans are being discussed to cope with the possibility of tens of thousands of migrants entering England, Wales and Northern Ireland from a future independent Scotland because of a failed independent Scottish economy?

The best plan is to make sure that it does not happen. Certainly, the recent proposal for a 3p local income tax is a very timely reminder of why it is better that Scotland remain inside the United Kingdom.

Q9. Sir Michael Lyons has said that the council tax places too heavy a burden on pensioners. Does the Prime Minister agree? (128699)

It is for precisely that reason that we asked Sir Michael to look at the way in which council tax works, and he has published his report today. It is one reason why we have given more support for pensioners, although I do not think that there will ever be a situation in which local taxes are popular.

Early-day motion 992, signed by 84 MPs, concerns the injustice done to a local community football team, AFC Wimbledon, whose hopes of promotion are over because it has been docked 18 points. It did not know that one of its players, who previously played for Cardiff City in the English championship, needed a—[Interruption.]

Order. I must be able to hear the hon. Lady to find out whether she is out of order. I cannot hear her if hon. Members are shouting her down.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. AFC Wimbledon did not know that it needed an international registration for that player to cross the river Severn to play football in south London. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister give his support to the thousands of football supporters up and down the country who believe that there should be justice for everyone’s teams, whether in the Ryman or the premier league?

Actually, I agree with my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right: it sounds like a daft rule, and someone should change it.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman something. Fortunately, one of the things that I have not had to be bothered about in the past 10 years is the running of the economy, because the Chancellor has done such a good job. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends must realise that in the end, that is what people will judge his record on—the results. Those results mean that in constituencies such as his, as well as in the constituencies of Labour Members, there are more people in work, people are earning more, living standards are rising and interest rates are at levels not heard of for years and years and years. As a result, schools in his constituency have had money put into them, the health service has had money put into it, and there are more police on the streets. That is the difference between a Chancellor who delivers and a Conservative party that failed.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see the recent analytical report in the Daily Record that highlighted the potential loss of thousands of jobs in the shipbuilding industry in Scotland? If those who wish to break up the UK are successful, does he agree that that is an act of unpardonable folly, and something that all of us should be bothered about?

It is an extraordinary situation when it is suggested that we break up the oil and gas industry and the way that it works, and that we break up institutions like defence and shipbuilding which have done so much for the people of Scotland. Scotland has had 200,000 extra jobs in the past few years, living standards have risen, there has been massive investment in education and health, and that is why I am sure people will not want to put that at risk.

Q11. Next week the Government are to reply to the all-party parliamentary group’s report on anti-Semitism. Given that we indicate in the report that the problem is growing, albeit subtly, in Britain and that there are blatant examples of anti-Semitism breaking out across Europe, will the Prime Minister ensure that the Government’s response is full and sufficient for our needs in this country, and also exemplary for other countries that may want to look at the matter further? (128701)

I certainly undertake to do so. I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we respond positively to that report—I am sure we will do so—in order to make it clear that anti-Semitism or any form of racism is unacceptable in this country. The hon. Gentleman is also right that this is a good and timely moment to send a signal across Europe too.