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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 459: debated on Wednesday 2 May 2007


The Secretary of State was asked—

Military Bases

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the future of military bases in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (134258)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Defence. There is a strong defence presence in Wales, which will be strengthened by the St. Athan defence training project.

RAF Valley is an integral part of the Anglesey community, has been so for over 60 years, and is a major contributor to the region. The recent positive announcement by the Ministry of Defence on locating the search and rescue headquarters and the new Hawk integrated operational support contract at Valley is creditable and gives confidence to both the civilian and military work force. Does he agree, however, that the academy at St. Athan offers further potential for RAF Valley to benefit and to broaden its skills base, and that a party with the aim of independence would jeopardise that?

I agree very much with my hon. Friend that RAF Valley has enormous potential, does good work and has potential linkages across Wales, including with the defence training project. That project, which is the biggest such public investment project in living memory—if not ever—will bring unparalleled investment in Wales, with over 5,000 jobs, an additional 1,500 jobs in construction and about £16 billion of investment, all of which is a result of the strong partnership between Westminster and a Welsh Assembly Government—a partnership that would be put at risk by a nationalist-Tory alliance in the Welsh Assembly Government if they won power.

Obviously, the Secretary of State has changed the order: it is now nationalist-Tory, not Tory-nationalist; in any event, it is nonsense, as it was last week. May I set the record straight? Plaid Cymru was fully supportive of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency bid from day one, we still are, and I fully appreciate what the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) says: the development is important to Wales and we could be world leaders in that kind of technology. At no stage have I expressed a contrary view, except to say that I would have preferred the jobs to have stayed in the public sector.

As the hon. Gentleman mentions the point, I do not mind whether the alliance is nationalist-Tory or Tory-nationalist; it would still put the Tories in power in Wales, and they have not been in power at a serious level of government anywhere in the United Kingdom for a long time. In respect of the policy of defence investment, why did his party president, Dafydd Iwan, call for the disbanding—

Given the Government’s massive investment in defence training, do not the armed services provide an excellent career for youngsters throughout Wales and across the United Kingdom? In that case, how does the Secretary of State answer those in Wales who call for Army recruitment to be banned in schools?

I did notice that one Plaid Cymru Assembly Member was calling for the Army to be banned from recruiting in schools, which is a crazy policy, like all Plaid Cymru’s other crazy policies that are designed to separate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, which would be a disastrous policy if it formed part of a Welsh Assembly Government’s future objectives.

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), the Secretary of State will be aware that the air service to be launched next week linking Cardiff airport with RAF Valley is to be subsidised by the Welsh Assembly Government to the tune of £800,000 per annum, which equates to a subsidy of more than £170 per passenger, per return flight, if those flights are fully occupied. Does he consider that such a level of subsidy is good value for taxpayers’ money? When does he anticipate that the service will be able to stand on its own feet financially?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) says from a sedentary position, the project is an investment in improved north-south transport links, which I would have thought the hon. Gentleman, as a north Wales MP, would welcome. I would have thought that he would say that businesses and individuals in north Wales who need to travel to and from Cardiff, which can take as long as five hours by car and a similar amount of time by train, should have the advantage of that service, which will bring extra investment to north Wales and Anglesey. He should be backing it, not attacking it.

Regulatory Burden

2. What plans he has for encouraging a reduction in the burden of central Government legislation on Welsh business. (134260)

The Government are wholeheartedly committed to cutting the regulatory burden on all businesses and are currently undertaking one of the most radical reform agendas in the world.

I am pleased to hear that, but is the Minister aware that recent surveys of Welsh business reveal overwhelming opposition to the Budget proposals to increase the rate of the small firms corporation tax? Will he pledge to do all that he can to resist those anti-business Euro-directives, particularly the working time directive, from which the UK had an opt-out, and the agency workers directive, both of which would do untold damage to Welsh tourism?

The Government have reduced the regulatory burden on business arising, for example, from Department of Trade and Industry regulations, by more than £1 billion. Some 900,000 companies are now exempt from audit requirements on their accounts. The hon. Gentleman refers to various surveys, and the CBI survey shows that manufacturers in Wales have received the highest surge in orders for more than a decade, and that Welsh firms are experiencing much stronger order and output growth than the UK as a whole. The latest figures show that new VAT registrations for businesses in Wales are up significantly. Moreover, 130,000 jobs have been created since 1997.

All those facts demonstrate that the Government are extremely successful in dealing with these matters. Small businesses are growing substantially in Wales, and are being created on a regular basis. That shows that we have the right policies, which could only be put at risk if we ended up with some sort of rag-bag coalition.

Will my hon. Friend remind Conservative Members that it was a Conservative Government who devastated business and industry in Wales, although siren voices suggested that measures such as the minimum wage would devastate business and industry rather than introducing fairness? Will he restate this Government’s policy of introducing measures from European directives properly, not gold-plating them but ensuring that there is fairness in industry for all, including business?

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said. I know from the hard work that he did in ensuring the passage of legislation to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that he is an expert in the field. The facts are clear: businesses in Wales are growing and are being created faster than ever before, and all the surveys indicate that the Government’s regime is working.

Of course, we will resist any attempts to gold-plate European regulation. We will continue with the formula—the partnership between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Labour Government here in Westminster—which has proved so successful, putting 138,000 more people in work than was the case 10 years ago.

Is not the misery-mongering from Norfolk mocked by the reality of thriving private industry in Wales? In Newport alone we have benefited from a huge amount of investment, resulting in thousands of new jobs in EADS, Yellow Pages, International Rectifier and the Quinn Group. Is that not largely due to the strength of the partnership between the Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly and the Labour-controlled Government, which would be put at risk if it fell into the instability of an Assembly controlled—

Surprisingly, I agree, yet again, with my hon. Friend. What he says is true, although that success is happening not just in Newport, but in my constituency: we now have record levels of employment where we used to have record levels of unemployment. Indeed, it is true throughout Wales. Ibsen Biopharm has announced an investment of more than £39 million in a pharmaceutical plant in Wrexham, and the Amazon investment was announced only last month.

Industry recognises that Wales is a good place in which to invest. We are seeing existing industries growing and new industries being created, because—as my hon. Friend says—of the wonderful partnership between Westminster and Cardiff.

Public Sector Employment

3. How many of the jobs created in Wales since 1997 have been in the public and publicly funded sectors. (134261)

Employment in Wales is at historically high levels, with 138,000 more people in employment in Wales since 1997. The increase in private sector employment in Wales has been three and a half times the increase in public sector employment.

The Secretary of State will know that Wales has a much higher proportion of public sector workers than the rest of the United Kingdom, and that unemployment there is rising. How does he account for that, and what will he tell voters in Wales tomorrow? Is it not the case that Labour is not working for those who are unemployed in Wales?

Unemployment is pretty stable, and employment continues to rise. Significantly, economic inactivity levels—which have been a curse of the Welsh economy—have been falling, especially in valley areas that have received the objective 1 funding delivered not by the last Tory Government, but by a Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman should look at the latest CBI report, which shows that manufacturers in Wales have received the highest surge in order levels for more than a decade. Entrepreneurship in Wales is at an all-time high, states a report in The Sunday Times. Many businesses are doing well, and many people are starting up businesses in all areas of the economy in Wales. It is a great place to do business. All of that would be put at risk if there were an unholy alliance between the nationalists and the Tories in a Welsh Assembly coalition Government.

The fastest growing part of the UK economy is in the Deeside hub—the axis between north-east Wales, Chester and Ellesmere Port. As my right hon. Friend knows, that has occurred only because of the partnerships that have been created across the border. The recent fantastic announcement about Vauxhall Motors has protected the jobs of hundreds of people living in north-east Wales.

My hon. Friend is right: the integration of the north-east Wales economy with nearby areas again underlines how absurd is the nationalist policy of separatism in Scotland or Wales or any part of the United Kingdom. It is a crazy policy for jobs and it would put at risk all the success—

The official figures show that 48,000 manufacturing jobs in Wales have been lost in 10 years. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will work with the Government in Cardiff, of whatever political complexion, to reverse this disastrous decline?

Obviously, as Secretary of State it is my duty to work with any Government in Wales of whatever political complexion, but it is important that I and my Labour predecessors have been able to work with a Labour Welsh Assembly Government that has provided unparalleled success in the economy, including in manufacturing—new manufacturers continue to be attracted to come to Wales and, as I have said, the CBI reports the best prospects for manufacturing for a long time. All of that would be put at risk if we were to have an unstable rag-bag coalition of the alternative parties, especially the nationalists joining with the Tories in an unholy alliance, which would put Wales’ success at risk.

If the Secretary of State has been so successful in working with the Labour Welsh Assembly Government, will he explain what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs workers in Pembrokeshire will do when their jobs are axed, in a cynically timed decision, after these elections? Will he also explain why half the population in Wales cannot find an NHS dentist, and what NHS nurses and doctors will do when Labour closes hospitals, such as Withybush, Llandudno and Bronglais?

No hospital closures are planned of that kind. This is yet again Tory scaremongering—the Tories are joining with their friends the nationalists in doing that. What about the 8,000 more nurses that there are in Wales since the last election? What about the 500 more consultants in hospitals? What about the 1,700 extra teachers and the 5,700 extra school support staff and the 1,000 extra police officers? [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says, “What about waiting times?” Waiting times have plummeted since 1997, when we came to power and found the terrible Tory inheritance. The public sector in Wales is doing well and it will continue to improve. The Tory alternative is massive public spending cuts: £21 billion in total, £1 billion of which will fall on the Welsh budget.

Antisocial Behaviour

4. What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on tackling antisocial behaviour in Wales. (134262)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on issues affecting Wales. We have introduced tougher antisocial behaviour measures than any previous Administration, which are designed to stamp out this blight on our communities.

The Penllwyn community partnership in my constituency has worked well with councillors and the police to combat the menace of antisocial behaviour. Far from being short term, costly and counter-productive, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, using legislation passed by this Government we have ensured that communities are empowered to tackle this nuisance. What measures are planned to ensure that people living in communities such as the Penllwyn will continue to be given help and support in order to improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods?

I applaud what has been taking place in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and I know that he has taken a close interest in that. I assure him that if Labour is returned to power at Cardiff bay in the Assembly elections, we will introduce antisocial behaviour units in every local authority area, increase investment in the safer and stronger communities fund and increase fines for littering, graffiti and fly-tipping, because all of those activities are a blight on a our local neighbourhoods. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, such measures are often opposed by the Conservatives, the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats. Therefore, they should, perhaps, join together and form a Government if they get the chance, as they have been continuously working together in opposition to undercut and undermine our Welsh Labour Government’s achievements.

When the Secretary of State has discussed with the Home Secretary the difficult issue of antisocial behaviour, has he raised a problem in Wales that is equally a problem in England? Families that suffer antisocial behaviour from neighbours feel that the time scale for resolving the problem and the note-keeping and incident recording that they have to do is so extensive that it makes their lives unacceptably awful for too long. Can something be done to speed up the process, while maintaining a sense of justice in the system?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point, and we must make sure that we monitor this issue and chase up on it. He is right: a neighbour from hell is a hellish experience. I saw that for myself at Llandudno Junction, for example, a few months ago, where a particular household literally terrorised the local community to the point where people did not want to live in their own homes. Through tough antisocial behaviour legislation and the local council working with the police, action was taken, the family was moved and the neighbourhood has returned to stability.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the behaviour of the chief constable of north Wales in displaying pictures of a motorcyclist killed on a north Wales road, without the permission of the relatives of that person, could be considered extremely antisocial? Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for the resignation of the chief constable?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this episode has caused enormous distress to the relatives of the victim, who were not even consulted in advance about this behaviour by the North Wales police chief constable. It is completely unacceptable, and I know that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is looking into it very seriously.

Grant Gronow, Jonathan Smith, Nathan John, Jessica Littleford, Stacey Hughes and Hannah Jones—the “Bryntirion six”—are young people who helped a woman who was being assaulted and robbed. They went to her aid while adults stood by, and they have been given a respect award. Will the Secretary of State join me in commending these young people, who demonstrate that not all young people are thugs? Many are decent law-abiding examples to adults of good behaviour.

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating these young people from her constituency; they are an example to everybody and a model to others. This allows us to state, as she has, that only a tiny minority of youngsters behave in the yobbish fashion that gives rise to the need for antisocial behaviour legislation. The vast majority of young people are a good example to their community—as, indeed, are her constituents.

Environmental Issues

5. What discussions he has had with the First Minister on environmental issues affecting Wales which are negotiated in Europe. (134263)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including environmental issues negotiated in Europe.

The EU, the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Welsh Administration all share a concern about the collapse of some species in Wales. There was a target—[Hon. Members: “Tories!”] I am sure that some are also concerned about the resurgence of the Tories in Wales. I am particularly concerned about the 81 per cent. decline in the number of curlew, for instance, since 1993, and the water vole has also declined by some four fifths in the past 20 years or so. I do not blame the Government for this, but what can the Minister and the Welsh Administration do to reverse this decline in biodiversity in Wales and to establish better wildlife conditions for the benefit of all the people in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question. It is true that certain species have been recorded as being in decline, whereas others are improving. Species such as the otter are now returning to many Welsh rivers in which they have not been seen for decades, so the picture is mixed. However, it is important that factors such as climate change be addressed as well, because they may well have an effect on biodiversity not just in Wales, but throughout the world. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the Climate Change Bill, which will put in legislation clear targets to try to address the threat that we all face from climate change.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the National Assembly for Wales has a central role to play in protecting our environment and combating climate change? Will he support proposals for new law-making powers for the Assembly to tackle environmental pollution in all its forms?

Yes, indeed, my hon. Friend raises an important point. Issues relating to climate change and how we tackle it are now the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. For example, I know their commitment to trying to achieve, by 2011, the target of all new buildings in Wales being carbon neutral. That is the sort of policy needed to tackle climate change, and we will also address it through technology and encouraging people and institutions to act more responsibly.

Is the Minister aware that ground-level ozone and summer smog caused mainly by traffic emissions has killed an estimated 1,500 people in Wales since 1997? I am probably the first Member of Parliament to ride a Vectrix electric bike, launched yesterday, a zero carbon vehicle with a range of 68 miles for a 20p charge. Does the Minister agree that such technology will reduce health risks and will he join me and the Welsh Liberal Democrats in promoting the use and manufacture of such vehicles in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman is right that emissions are not only about climate change, but about health and the quality of the atmosphere. My official cars in London and Cardiff are electric hybrids. The Government have produced a list of top tips for smarter drivers which, if all motorists followed them, would reduce emissions by 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year and save more than £2 billion in fuel costs. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), it is important that individuals take the decision to address climate change in their habits, including the way in which they drive and the type of vehicles they use. That is part of the way in which we will tackle climate change.

When the Secretary of State has not been repeating election slogans like a parrot, he has forcibly and repeatedly supported the proposed 200 turbine wind farm at Gwynt y Môr, to the extent that he has even attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) for raising his constituents’ concerns about the massive impact of that environmental project. In the past 48 hours, the First Minister has surprisingly and cynically taken the Conservative line and joined us in calling for a public inquiry. Will the Minister now condemn the First Minister for dumping official Labour policy on that wind farm for the sake of a few votes?

That policy has certainly not been dumped. The fact is that last year the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) came to north Wales, shortly before announcing that he was going to put a wind turbine on his house, and described the Gwynt y Môr development as a massive bird blender. He may have changed his view, but I can assure the hon. Lady that the First Minister has not changed his view on his support for renewable energy. Yet again, the Conservatives claim to have a grand policy in favour of renewable energy, but when it comes to hard decisions, they fluff them.

My right hon. Friend and I regularly meet Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including the environment.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that Wales is on target to meet its national target to increase recycling and composting rates to 40 per cent. by 2009-10? What discussions has he had with the First Minister about that?

The recycling and waste disposal schemes being pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government are on track and we have discussed these matters. Wales has a big and ambitious recycling and waste disposal programme at all levels, and encourages households to do the same.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements for today, I again have the sad duty of asking the House to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Rifleman Paul Donnachie of the 2nd Battalion the Rifles, who was killed in Iraq at the weekend. We pay tribute to him for his dedication and sacrifice. This has been a difficult month for our forces in Iraq, and more so for their families. We send them our thoughts, prayers and sympathy at this time.

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.

The whole House will wish to join the Prime Minister in his expression of condolence.

If the Prime Minister had a quote for an extension on his house 18 months ago, which was resubmitted today for more than two and half times the original amount, I suspect that he might get a few more quotes. Could I ask him to do exactly the same on behalf of my constituents, all of whom will benefit from the A5-M1 link, and very kindly meet me and Highways Agency officials to find out why costs have escalated so astronomically, and to see what can be done about it?

Although the costs of the particular scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers have escalated, it is only because the Government are making money available for investment that it can go ahead at all. I am perfectly happy to meet him to discuss the scheme, but the business case for the link has to be made good on the basis of the funding available from the Department for Transport.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the 10th anniversary of his premiership, and on the tremendous vision and leadership that he has shown in this country? What is the balance that must be achieved between understanding the hurt and concern of those bereaved or injured on 7 July 2005, and the need for maintaining absolute focus on the work of the Security Service and the police? We owe them congratulations and a debt of gratitude for the work done in Operation Crevice which, in early 2004, saved us from the most devastating terrorist attack that would have involved the most enormous loss of life.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the magnificent work that our security services and police do in protecting this country from terrorism. It is worth reminding ourselves that Operation Crevice was an enormous success for those services, focusing as it did on one of the many different plots against which they protect our country, day in and day out. I entirely understand the concerns of the families of the 7/7 victims, but I believe that the Intelligence and Security Committee report is the right one, and that at this stage it would be wrong, as my right hon. Friend indicated, to divert resources, attention and energy into anything other than fighting terrorism on all fronts.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Paul Donnachie and the soldier from the Royal Signals Regiment who were killed in Basra in the past week. As the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said, the conviction of five British-born men for planning terrorist attacks on a massive scale reminds us of the risks that we face. However, the links between them and those responsible for the 7/7 bombings that killed 52 people in London raise a number of important questions. Given the need to enhance public confidence in the fight against terrorism and to answer those questions, will the Prime Minister clarify whether he has ruled out, once and for all, holding a proper independent inquiry?

I have ruled out having another “proper independent” inquiry. The fact is that the Intelligence and Security Committee went into all the issues in immense detail. It had to be somewhat cryptic in its report, because the case in Operation Crevice was sub judice at that point, but it received the vast bulk of the information and is now perfectly entitled to call for anything else it needs. The Committee went into immense detail, so I believe that it would be a mistake for us to have another inquiry as if their inquiry were somehow either not proper or not independent—it was both those things.

The Prime Minister says that the ISC report will be equivalent—as it were—to a full independent inquiry, but I have to say that I really do not think that is right. For all the good work the ISC does, it has limitations; it has no investigative powers, it has no investigator and it did not hear evidence from the West Yorkshire special branch. Are not those good reasons for an independent inquiry—not a public inquiry, but a full independent inquiry?

Let me make one thing clear. The ISC was perfectly entitled to ask for any information it wanted. As far as I am aware, everyone gave the maximum co-operation throughout so it would be wrong to say that in some way or other the Committee did not have the information it wanted. Any information the Committee wants it can have. The ISC is headed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who is a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and its members have experience in the intelligence and security field—many of them as former Ministers. We have to be clear about the reason why people want another inquiry. I totally understand both the grief of the victims of 7/7 and their anxiety to have another inquiry, but the reason why people want another inquiry is for it to reach a different conclusion. That is understandable, but in circumstances where the ISC has had access to everything it needed, and could have access to anything else it needs, it would not be responsible for us to have a further full independent inquiry that would simply divert the Security Service, the police and others from their task of fighting terrorism.

I have to disagree with the Prime Minister. The reason why people want an independent inquiry is the scale of what happened in London on 7 July, when 52 people were murdered and 700 were injured. The reason why people want a full inquiry is to get to the truth—[Interruption.] It is important. In the case of the intelligence failures before the Iraq war, yes, there was an ISC inquiry but the Prime Minister ordered the Butler inquiry as well. Is it not equally important to get to the truth in this case, too?

I am afraid that what I object to is the idea that somehow there has been an attempt not to provide the truth up to now. I do not believe for a single instant that the ISC did not get to the truth; indeed, it had the information revealed in Operation Crevice before it and looked into it in immense detail. Some of what has appeared in the media is, frankly, misleading and wrong; what the shadow Home Secretary has been saying is also wrong—I think that he said in a newspaper article the other day that MI5 and the security services had been starved of resources after 9/11. That is simply not correct. The budget has been doubled and we have dramatically increased the number of people working for our security services.

The whole point is that those people do an immensely difficult task. They went along to the ISC; the then head of MI5 gave evidence three times and special branch gave evidence—again contrary to what the shadow Home Secretary has said. The Committee was able to call for whatever information it wanted. If we now say, effectively, that the ISC inquiry was not adequate and if we hold another inquiry, I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we shall simply cause great anxiety and difficulty in the service and we shall not get any more truth—because the truth is there in the ISC; what we shall do is undermine support for our security services and I am not prepared to do that.

The Prime Minister will be aware that Labour has delivered on its commitment to build a new cancer unit in Leeds and that Leeds people know that only a Labour Government will deliver on a children’s hospital. A powerful campaign is being developed by parents and the Yorkshire Evening Post, so will my right hon. Friend use his energy and commitment to urge the NHS trust in Leeds to get its act together and submit a realistic plan to build a children’s hospital?

I shall certainly do exactly as my hon. Friend says. He is completely right: a huge multi-million pound investment has been set aside for Leeds. We want to see the best of services there and he will know, from experience in his constituency, that waiting lists have come down significantly and that there are extra doctors, extra nurses and, of course, a massive capital investment in the NHS.

Once again, I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence at the end of what he rightly describes as a most difficult month. Now that the former Secretary of State for Defence has admitted that there were serious errors in the planning for post-war Iraq, who takes responsibility for those errors?

The responsibility for everything to do with the conduct of the Iraq war is, of course, taken by the Government. The points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) made about deba’athification and the disbandment of the army are points that I have made before. However, let me just say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the reason why things are so challenging and difficult in Iraq is that we have al-Qaeda on the one hand—an outside terrorist organisation committing appalling acts of carnage in Iraq—and Iranian-backed Shi’a extremists on the other. Our job, in my view, is to stand up to both of those elements, as they are precisely the elements that we face in Iraq and Afghanistan and the world over.

But is it not clear where responsibility for Iraq lies? The President made the decisions, the Prime Minister argued the case, the Chancellor signed the cheques and the Tories voted it through. That is where the responsibility for Iraq is to be found.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s policy had been implemented, Saddam Hussein and his two sons would still be running Iraq. [Interruption.] Yes they would. Hundreds of thousands of people died in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. We removed Saddam. We are fighting terrorism now in Iraq. Our troops are there with the United Nations mandate and the full support of the Iraqi Government. It is not British soldiers or indeed American soldiers that are committing acts of terrorism in Iraq; it is people who are going there specifically to stop that country’s democracy working. I believe that our job is to stand up for Iraq and its democracy against terrorism.

If my right hon. Friend is not having an inquiry into the matters affecting 7 July, will he have another inquiry into Black Wednesday, on 16 September 1992? It is now apparent that new information has emerged. It appears that the Leader of the Opposition is in a photograph and he was not trailed at the time. I believe that that demands a new inquiry. It would suit this side of the House and it might even drive another man to drugs.

Actually, an inquiry is one way of dealing with that. The other way is to make sure that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) never gets his hands on the British economy again.

Q2. On 24 September 2002, the Prime Minister told the House that if Saddam Hussein was able to purchase fissile material illegally, it would be only one to two years before he had acquired a usable nuclear weapon. Given that a recent letter that I have from the Cabinet Office can find no basis for that claim—a claim that was not attributed to the Joint Intelligence Committee and which did not reflect the standing JIC assessment, as the Prime Minister knew very well—on what basis did the Prime Minister make that claim, both in a statement to the House and in the Iraq dossier? (135076)

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says at all. The fact is that if Saddam Hussein had been able to acquire fissile material, it would have allowed him to develop nuclear weapons. That is correct. The one thing that we know is that he was somebody who used, not nuclear, but chemical and biological weapons against his own people. So, let me just say to the hon. Gentleman, some people may take the view that Saddam was not a threat; that is not my view. He was a threat and we dealt with him.

On 20 May, a constituent of mine, Sir Richard Knowles, will celebrate his 90th birthday. Dick Knowles became the leader of Birmingham city council in 1984. Despite a Tory Government who did not believe in investing in our cities, he changed the face of that city. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Dick Knowles on his birthday, and will he share my hope that the weak and indecisive leadership that we are currently experiencing in Birmingham will soon come to an end?

I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. Let me join her in wishing Dick Knowles all the best on his 90th birthday. He did an immense amount for Birmingham. The work that he did is one of the reasons why Birmingham is such a thriving and successful European city today.

Two years ago, the Prime Minister told us that he would serve a full third term. Yesterday, he said that he would be off in weeks. He has told us who is going to wear the crown; can he tell us who wielded the knife?

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about leadership and candidates, I certainly will not be following his example regarding the Mayor of London. I can assure him that the person I will be backing for the leadership of the Labour party will at least be a member of the Labour party.

Why is the Prime Minister so coy? Why will he not tell us a bit about the man who will be our Prime Minister and how that man managed to get the better of him? Given that the Prime Minister said that he would serve a full third term, does that mean that when he walks out of No. 10 Downing street, this Parliament is at an end, or was that the last of his broken promises?

As the right hon. Gentleman asks me to tell him something about my right hon. Friend, I will tell him about what we have achieved together over these past 10 years: economic stability through the independence of the Bank of England; record investment in public services; better maternity leave and maternity pay; more support for pensioners; the repeal of section 28; a ban on tobacco advertising; the climate change levy; and, of course, the minimum wage. What do they all have in common? The right hon. Gentleman’s party voted against them.

Does my right hon. Friend share my growing concern about the seeming acceptability of taking cannabis and the fact that it can lead to mental health problems? Does he know how to grow one’s own dope—plant a Scottish nationalist?

My hon. Friend makes her point very well, which is why I hope that people vote tomorrow for the Union and for Scotland and England staying together, not for separation.

I seem to have upset some Members again, Mr. Speaker.

One part of the Government’s modernisation programme that is proving very popular with older people is bus passes for the over-60s. Is the Prime Minister aware that Lib Dem authorities such as Teignbridge are meeting that command, while the Tory mayor of Torbay and the Tory council of East Devon are denying older people the freedom to travel across Devon? Will the Prime Minister tell us which is right, and will he ask his successor to ensure that funding is available so that the scheme can continue—

First, I should thank the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to what we are doing for pensioners. I have some other things to add that the Liberal Democrats have posted on their website about the Government’s record over the past 10 years. They have given the

“Blair/Brown years…4 out of 10”

[Interruption.] The six I kind of accepted, but what are the four things that we have got right, according to the Liberal Democrats? They are:

“stability for the economy. A Foreign Policy with an ethical dimension”—

[Interruption.] Wait for it. There is also the

“historic modernisation of our political system”


“with the creation of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly”.


“After initially sticking to Tory spending limits, investment in Britain’s dilapidated public services started. The fruits of that investment can now be seen. In the NHS”—

this is from the Lib Dems—

“more staff, reduced waiting lists, better care in…areas such as cancer. In Education a schools building programme, better paid teachers, more books, and better equipment.”

[Hon. Members: “Hooray”.] People should not be voting Tory or Lib Dem; they should be voting Labour.

I know that my right hon. Friend is an enthusiast of both education and football, so may I draw his attention to the Aces scheme in my constituency, which is a partnership between West Bromwich Albion football club, local schools and the local authority that has raised academic standards by an estimated 9 per cent. over the past two years and is funded by the neighbourhood renewal fund? Will he make an undertaking to monitor that scheme and see what potential it has to be rolled out in other historically deprived educational areas?

I echo the congratulations that my hon. Friend gave to the scheme, and I thank West Bromwich Albion and all those other partners for the work that they are doing. It is important to recognise—and I have seen this for myself, for example, in the new facilities that are very close to West Bromwich Albion itself—that there has been a massive increase in regeneration in our inner-city areas, which is why it is important that we keep that funding going. Good use has been made of it, and it is producing better facilities and it has reduced levels of deprivation. I entirely support his congratulations to those involved in that scheme.

Q4. In 1997, the Prime Minister said that one of the reasons why people elected a Labour Government was their concern that the NHS was failing them and their families. [Laughter.] (135078)

And in 2007, consultants said that

“the present state of children’s services in Leeds is not fit for purpose and we are anxious about the continuing safety of children in hospital.”

May I ask the Prime Minister in the dying days of his premiership whether that is his NHS legacy in Leeds, or will he, before he goes, promise the people of Leeds that they will at last get the much needed children’s hospital that was approved in 2004 and shelved in 2007?

I wonder whether that was a planted question, because the NHS legacy is more staff. In the hon. Gentleman’s area, there have been 31,000 more NHS staff, including 7,000 more nurses, and there are reduced waiting lists—the number of people waiting over six months has fallen dramatically. In relation to the children’s hospital, yes, we are committed to that extra investment in the health service, but he should know that, for example, in “Making it Better”, there was a request for Leeds MPs to come along to a meeting, but he did not attend, which does not say a great deal for him.

Order. We cannot have points of order, and I am not responsible for the Prime Minister’s answers.

If it is not correct, I apologise entirely, but I am also told that the hon. Gentleman had two meetings arranged with the chief executive of the strategic health authority which he has cancelled, too.

The Prime Minister will be aware that yesterday, we had a visit in Northern Ireland from the President of the European Commission. At that meeting, the President made an announcement that he was instituting a taskforce to look into Northern Ireland’s position regarding the money that comes from Europe, and also to help new industry. Will the Prime Minister join me and the people of Northern Ireland in welcoming that announcement, and will he give us a promise today, before he leaves office, that he will back it all the way?

I understand the importance of the visit by the President of the European Commission, which was made partly in direct response to a request from the right hon. Gentleman. I can assure him that I will fully back whatever the Commission does to support investment and industry in Northern Ireland.

A company called Whipp and Bourne, which is one of the country’s largest manufacturers and exporters of switchgear, announced this week that it is to close, with the loss of 200 exceptionally well skilled jobs. The rumour is that the company may be intending to move to China or India. How can the Government encourage companies like Whipp and Bourne, first, to remain in my constituency, and, secondly to remain in the UK? I am meeting the trade unions on Friday, and I would like to give them some hope.

First, we should extend our sympathy to those who have lost their jobs and been made redundant as a result of the decision that the company has taken. It is difficult for us to prevent companies from deciding to relocate. The best thing that we can do for business and industry is to keep our economy strong, improve the levels of investment in skills, and make sure, as we now do, that where major redundancies are announced, we provide proper structured help for those who are made redundant. Where we can, of course, we also encourage companies to keep their location here in this country. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to discuss those possibilities with the Department of Trade and Industry. It is an unfortunate fact here and round the world that companies are highly mobile. The most important thing, however, is to keep the economy sufficiently strong so that we are always generating new jobs.

Q5. Yes, it is me again, Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister please use his final weeks in office to secure the release of the hostages Alan Johnston and Corporal Gilad Shalit, working together with the Palestinian Authority? I believe that that will secure a way forward for peace in the middle east. (135079)

I am sorry that Alan Johnston and, in a different context, Corporal Shalit are still kept as hostages. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that their release would make a big difference in the middle east. In respect of Alan Johnston, there is no conceivable reason for him to be kept. He was a journalist doing his job out there. There have also been many calls from Palestinian leaders and Palestinian journalists for his release, and we continue to do everything we can to facilitate that. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say, in respect of Corporal Shalit, that his release would allow a whole series of things to happen, not least releases of Palestinian prisoners, and other things that would allow us to move the situation forward. There continues to be nothing more urgent than the middle east.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the efforts being made by the Welsh Assembly under Labour to promote social enterprise and co-operative initiatives? Does he agree that economic and social development in Wales depends on a continuation of the strong partnership between the House of Commons and the Assembly, both under Labour? Will he encourage people to fear the dangers of a negative nexus of nationalists and Conservatives?

When we look at the large investment in Wales and the tremendous strength of the Welsh economy—the action that has been taken by the Welsh Executive under the leadership of Rhodri Morgan has been essential in that— I should have thought that that is infinitely preferable to the ragbag strange coalition between the Conservative party and nationalists.

Q6. Today, Mrs. Ogg retires as sub-postmistress after 30 years’ service in the post office in Laurencekirk. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating her on her retirement, and ensure that when the Department of Trade and Industry announces the future of the Post Office, her successor enjoys the same success as he hopes his successor will? (135080)

Of course I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Mrs. Ogg on her service and the work that she has done over the years. I point out that it is a result of this Government that we have managed to invest about £2 billion in the post office network. We know that for all the reasons that are understandable it is still subject to intense pressure, but I hope very much that the successor in that post office is able to continue and make sure that the post office has a viable future, but it must be viable within the subsidy that we are able to give.

I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting my constituency a few weeks ago—[Interruption.] Opposition Members might consider this to be important. My right hon. Friend visited my constituency to review projects for local people who are suffering major change following the collapse of MG Rover a couple of years ago. Will he assure me that that support, particularly for community infrastructure, will continue? Does he agree that ongoing support from Government year in, year out for local communities facing change is vital, rather unlike what we experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s?

There has been a big change in the way in which we deal with situations in which there are large numbers of redundancies. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in respect of the collapse of Rover, as that was an important part of our bringing together all the different partners. We made a big investment from Government and, as I saw for myself when I visited his constituency, a large proportion of those people have now found alternative work and employment. An immense amount of effort has gone in, and I think that that is what a modern welfare state is about—not trying to pretend that we can stop companies closing if they are not profitable or a decision is made to relocate them, but getting underneath the work force and supporting them in their desire to achieve new work and be able to cope with the process of that redundancy. That has been immensely successful in relation to MG Rover, and I pay tribute to everyone engaged in it.

Q7. Recent court decisions have left us in the extraordinary position that the Government can neither deport nor detain dangerous foreign terrorists. These decisions flow directly from the Human Rights Act 1998. As it is within the power of this House to amend the Act and within the power of the Government to file a derogation from the European convention, why does the Prime Minister not introduce amending legislation so that this situation can be remedied? (135081)

Because it is not the problem. The problem is the European convention on human rights. The reason why there is a problem is the court case, I think in 1996, in relation to—I think I am right in saying this—those who were alleged to be engaged in terrorism in respect of India at the time. As a result of that case—I think it is called the Chahal case—this difficulty has been created. We are trying to get that decision overturned in respect of the European Court of Human Rights, and it is essential that we do so, because where I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman is that we cannot have a situation in which people come to this country and engage in acts of terrorism, inciting terrorism or encouraging terrorism, and then we are told that we cannot deport them back to their own country, even with a memorandum of understanding with that country, when they simply say, “We may be mistreated when we go back there”, despite what they are doing here. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing about it. What we are doing is trying to get that decision overturned. It is not correct, however, that it comes about as a result of domestic legislation. It comes about as a result of that case, decided under the last Government and under the European convention on human rights.