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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What funding was allocated to policing in Northern Ireland in each of the last three years; and what the forecast budget is for 2008-09. (151122)

The total resource funding allocated to policing in Northern Ireland in each of the past three years was £860 million in 2005-06, £889 million in 2006-07 and £960 million in the current year of 2007-08. The allocation for policing in Northern Ireland for 2008-09 will not be determined until the comprehensive spending review has been concluded.

I thank the Minister for his response. He will be aware that the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Chief Constable are concerned about a possible reduction in the police budget in the forthcoming financial year, and that there are increasing pressures on the budget as a result of policing the past, the ongoing inquiries, and the cost of the legal advice that the police need to secure in order to participate in them. However, does he agree that it is right that the Government provide adequate funding for the ordinary policing in the community that tackles all the matters that concern the people of Northern Ireland? Does he accept that there should not be a reduction in the police budget, given the increasing costs of the inquiries that I have mentioned? Will the Government do something to reduce the cost of the inquiries, and ensure that adequate policing is provided for all the victims of crime in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Speaker, we had the Adjournment debate yesterday, and in it we covered much of the territory in the hon. Gentleman’s question. However, I shall start with the facts. This year’s budget for the Police Service of Northern Ireland is £100 million more than it was two years ago. As for the CSR discussions, I assure him that we want to maintain the same police numbers—that is, 7,500 officers—as we have at the moment. For obvious reasons, that is rather more than one would find in the average police service in the rest of the UK. What matters too is how those resources are deployed. That is very important, and the Chief Constable’s commitment to neighbourhood policing is very welcome.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) touches on another important issue that no doubt will be touched on later in our proceedings today. We cannot go on spending on investigations into the past without there being a knock-on effect on both present and future services. The CSR considerations that are going on at the moment will be important in that respect, but I am committed to making sure that we continue to provide the necessary funding for the PSNI, and I am determined that that will happen.

Will the Minister assure the House that budget constraints in the future will not curb or compromise the roll-out and full implementation of the Patten vision for policing? This morning, the Police Service has had to seal off a number of streets in Derry city centre because of hoax devices. Will he join me in condemning the so-called dissident republicans responsible for such attacks? At a time when Derry city centre is seeing the fruits of normalisation and the removal of military installations, the attacks serve only to bring the British Army, in the form of the bomb disposal units, back on to the streets there.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are fully signed up to what he describes as the Patten vision, and that we will continue to deliver on it. That will include making sure that the PSNI reflects more fully the composition of Northern Ireland’s population. Over the past three years, we have committed £178 million to fulfilling the Patten vision for policing in Northern Ireland. He has told the House about the events in Derry, and I of course join him and others in condemning dissident republicans who continue to think that violence and conflict are the way forward, when the truth is that politics is the way forward. Equally, however, I condemn those loyalist paramilitaries who were involved in the shooting of a police officer at the weekend. That is just as damnable, and such actions are increasingly marginal in a Northern Ireland society where real politics is taking over and determining the future.

Does not the Minister’s very proper condemnation of the events of yesterday and the weekend underline the necessity for keeping an absolutely first-class police force in Northern Ireland, under the inspired leadership of an admirable Chief Constable? Will he ring-fence expenditure on the past and try to ensure that is totally separate from the running budget for police needs?

The special fund of £34 million that we have provided for the historical inquiries team to look into the unresolved murders of the years of the troubles is, of course, additional money that does not come out of the day-to-day policing budget. It is important that we focus all the resources that we can on day-to-day policing—that is, on neighbourhood policing and dealing with antisocial behaviour, for example—but we must also deal with the remaining threats from dissident republicans, loyalist paramilitaries or those involved in organised crime networks. I know that the hon. Gentleman cares very deeply about such matters, and that he will agree that we must remain very strongly focused on them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Assets Recovery Agency has an important role to play in deterring crime, as well as potentially obtaining more funds for policing in Northern Ireland? Can he outline the progress the Government have made in obtaining funds through that source?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He is right: where assets are seized and turned back into cash, it can be put back into front-line police services. I am pleased to say that with some of that money the Police Service of Northern Ireland has just taken on 60 new financial investigators, who will further improve the capacity for that work. The ARA is doing a tremendous job in Northern Ireland and its work will be redoubled and strengthened when it merges with the Serious Organised Crime Agency next year. Of course, partnership with our colleagues in the Republic is also an important element of that work.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister on their appointments and thank them very much for their kindness this week following the terrible flooding in my constituency. I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House for having to leave shortly after this question to attend to those problems.

Given that the security situation has improved so much, is it not rather unfortunate that over the past 10 years the level of policing has dropped from 8,500 to 7,500 officers, and also that the full-time reservist force has dropped from 3,000 to fewer than 700 and the part-time reservist force from 1,300 to fewer than 900? Although we hope that the security situation continues to improve, are not those figures of a little concern to the Minister?

On behalf of my right hon. Friend, may I express our sympathies to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents for the difficulties that they face?

At 7,500, the PSNI has greater strength than any other police service in the United Kingdom. Significantly, confidence in the PSNI shows an encouraging story: 75 per cent. of people in Northern Ireland express full confidence in the police service that they receive. We should all take encouragement from that.

Maze Prison Site

The future of the Maze prison site is now the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. To date, they have not sought discussions with me on the matter, but of course I would be happy to meet them to discuss it further if they wish.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and thank him for that reply. The estimated cost of building a national stadium at the Long Kesh Maze site is between £43 million and £400 million. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a definitive figure, to the extent that he is able to do so, after taking account of all contingency and additional costs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks.

The matter is now devolved and it is for the Executive in Northern Ireland, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. Suffice it to say that it is under review; the Executive are looking at a business case and I understand that they will bring it back in the autumn.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He will be aware that the people of Northern Ireland are pleased that the question of the future of the Maze is now in the hands of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but will he make sure that every piece of information relating to the stadium is put into the public domain so that people such as Northern Ireland football supporters do not have to go to freedom of information legislation to obtain information about various aspects of the process that seem to have been kept very secret? Will he assure the Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland that every bit of information will be put into the public domain?

The Secretary of State will be well aware of the almost total opposition of Northern Ireland football supporters to the siting of the stadium at the Maze. He will also be aware of the total opposition of Unionists to the provision of a shrine to hunger strikers at the Maze—something that is already happening, promoted by Sinn Fein. Will he give an assurance that no agreements made in the past by direct rule Ministers or actions taken by direct rule Ministers in the future will limit the ability of the Executive and the Assembly in Northern Ireland to be the final arbiters of what happens to the Maze site and the location of the national stadium?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, of course, this is now a matter for the Executive—the final decision will be theirs—but I remind him that when direct rule Ministers looked at the issue, it was the subject of enormous consultation and that the decision was endorsed by all three major sporting bodies—those for soccer, rugby and Gaelic football? However, these are now matters for the Executive.

In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s observations about what some have described as a terrorist shrine, there is no question of its being a terrorist shrine and, frankly, to suggest that it is, as I think that he knows, denigrates the work done by the Maze consultation panel. It came up with proposals and a way forward on all this, and it would be best to remember the words of the Deputy First Minister, who said yesterday:

“I am not arguing for any kind of shrine…If we want a conflict transformation centre, then it has to concentrate on how we resolve conflict.”

Historical Inquiries

3. How much has been spent on ongoing historical inquiries in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (151124)

6. How much has been spent on ongoing historical inquiries in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (151127)

7. What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of ongoing historical inquiries in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (151128)

The Bloody Sunday inquiry, the Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright inquiries and the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s historical inquiries team were established to address specific issues arising from Northern Ireland’s past. The total cost of the four public inquiries, as at April 2007, is £211 million. The estimated expenditure of the historical inquiries team at end March 2007 is £9.9 million. I have placed a more detailed breakdown of expenditure in the Library today for the benefit of right hon. and hon. Members.

Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of how many of the 3,268 murders related to the security situation that are being investigated by the historical inquiry team are likely to lead to the establishment of a separate public inquiry?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the historical inquiries team was specifically set up by the Chief Constable to focus on providing resolution, where possible, for the families affected by those deaths in a way that would command the confidence of the wider community. There is no question but that it has been successful, particularly in its specific purpose of engaging with families. As for prosecutions, that is, of course, a matter for the Chief Constable.

Does the Secretary of State accept that those of us who supported setting up the Bloody Sunday inquiry would not have done so if we had known that, by now, it would cost £180 million? It has not yet concluded, and it almost certainly has not brought the closure that we all desired.

Undoubtedly, the costs of the Bloody Sunday inquiry are higher than many people would like. Of course, the Government are committed to ensuring not only that the inquiry has the resources to do the job, but that we can bring about best value for money for the public purse. The fact of the matter is that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, justice must take its course. The inquiry has had to interview more than 900 witnesses. There have been endless judicial review proceedings. None the less, it is now proceeding towards its end, and we expect and hope that its resolution will come soon.

I apologise for not have heard all the answer, Mr. Speaker.

The Secretary of State has been helpful in what he has said, but will he tell me whether he in the Department or someone in the devolved Administration decides which inquiry will take place and determines the extent of the investigation and the budgetary parameters? Who decides whether it is appropriate to hold an inquiry and on what terms?

The conduct of most of the inquiries that are taking place is already set out, and they are already proceeding along their courses. A number of inquiries are under way. I am not quite sure which inquiry the hon. Gentleman is referring to, but I am happy to discuss that with him or to pursue it by letter. Of course, inquiry matters are for me to set out, but once under way, they are matters for the chairman or the judge involved.

The Secretary of State says that justice must take its course, but does he accept that many of the innocent victims in Northern Ireland see no justice? What they see is hundreds of millions of pounds being spent for political purposes by the Government and others to pursue a vendetta against the security forces and those who work to defeat terrorism. I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, but will he do something to redress the balance in favour of the victims and against the terrorists and those who would seek to rewrite history?

There is no question in anybody’s mind of inquiries being confused with vendettas. The inquiries are there precisely to establish the truth, and it is absolutely right that they continue to do so. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the future of inquiries and how we handle the past. That is why my predecessor—I pay tribute to the work that he did not only in this area, but during his entire time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland over the previous two years—set up the consultative group. Its purpose, under Robin Eames and Denis Bradley, is to see whether, across the entire community of Northern Ireland, we can find a consensus on how to deal with the past. There is no question but that we must continue to discover the truth about the past. That will never be sacrificed. However, we also have to find a way to deal with the past that does not leave us in a divided past, but allows us to use our inquiries as a way of healing for the future.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to their new positions and offer the best wishes of my party to them in doing what remains, potentially, a very difficult job. I share many of the concerns about the price of the inquiries, but we should never lose sight of their value. The Secretary of State just referred to the Bradley and Eames commission on the past. Does he accept that that is an inquiry of a different order? Will he ensure that its deliberations are properly resourced and that any recommendations it makes will be properly implemented?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and I am sure that he will be extremely successful. I also welcome the co-operation that he has already offered me in my job. I agree with most of what he said, but, on the other hand, I cannot second-guess the outcome of the work of Lord Eames and Denis Bradley. I have every confidence that if a consensus can be found on how to deal with the past for the future, they are the people who will help to find it from within the community. It is my intention to publish the findings of their report, but that will be based on consultation with them.

I welcome the new Secretary of State to his office and wish him well. We were both elected as Conservative MPs in 1997 and it is an interesting reflection on the different ways in which we have spent the past 10 years that we hold our current posts. I intend to build on the sterling work of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who supported the Government through the current process, but did not offer them a blank cheque. On the question of cheques, will the Secretary of State estimate the total cost of all the current and future inquires, and say when he thinks they may be completed?

Since the hon. Gentleman invites me to look at the past, and the time when we were both elected, I will say to him that it took me two years to realise that the Conservatives were the party of the past and that Labour remains and will be the party of the future. Even though he has remained in the Conservative party for eight years longer than I did, if he wants to come across now, I am sure that we can always find a place for him here.

In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s question about the cost of future inquiries, in the case of the four public inquiries currently under way, we anticipate further expenditure of about £60 million. We have set aside for the historical inquiries team £34 million, of which £10 million has already been spent, leaving a further £24 million, which we expect to be spent by the various agencies in Northern Ireland in looking at the past.

That was a helpful reply. The Secretary of State knows that the Chief Constable has stated that retrospective work is absorbing 40 per cent. of police time. Can he confirm whether, in his opinion, the time may come when, in the interests of current police priorities, it will be sensible to draw a line under further historical inquiries?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I believe that he has already taken the opportunity of discussing some of the issues with the Chief Constable. There is no question but that investigations into the past are a considerable burden for the Chief Constable, in terms of resources, manpower and time, but we should recognise that the investigations and inquiries have played a critical role in allowing us to get to where we are with devolution, the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland. Crucially, as was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Minister of State who has responsibility for security, there are unparalleled levels of confidence in policing in Northern Ireland. The way in which the Chief Constable has dealt with the past is exemplary, and that has been crucial to ensuring those levels of police confidence. As for the future, we have asked the consultative group to consider the issues and find a consensus. I will not second-guess what it will find, but I will pay very close attention to the work that it produces.

Prisons (Illegal Drugs)

Positive action has already been taken by the Prison Service, and I have asked the director to review measures to reduce the supply of, and demand for, illegal drugs in prisons—[Interruption.]

Given that so many prisoners are heavily dependent on drugs when convicted, and that so many prisoners suffer from mental illness through drug use, what extra measures will the Minister introduce to encourage the rehabilitation of prisoners while they are in jail, so that they come off drugs?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we need to deal with not just the supply of, but the demand for, illegal drugs in prisons. I was at Hydebank Wood prison earlier this week, and I saw the work of an organisation called Opportunity Youth, which works to support, help and counsel young people there. Its results are very good, in terms of lowering recidivism rates and ensuring a worthwhile future for those young people. When the director brings his recommendations to me, I expect him to include measures that will give people support and help in dealing with their addiction problems.

In the Minister’s opinion, are the sentences handed down by the courts in Northern Ireland for drug-related offences—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the Minister’s opinion, are the sentences a stiff enough punishment, and a great enough deterrent?

Of course, sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, rather than Ministers, but I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned with the need to make sure that for serious offences, particularly sexual crime and drugs offences, the punishment fits the crime. I can tell him and the rest of the House that later in the year I will bring forward proposals for a reform of the sentencing framework in Northern Ireland, which will include the possibility of tougher sentences for dangerous and violent offenders.

My hon. Friend will know that it is not just in Northern Ireland that drugs coming into prisons are a problem; recently in Scotland, a solicitor was sent to jail for bringing drugs into prison. Will he ensure that there is adequate funding in Northern Ireland, not only for searches—we must make sure that they are much more sophisticated—but to ensure that the consequences for people convicted of bringing drugs into prisons are advertised, so that people know what they are up against when they do it?

Of course my hon. Friend is right: the problem of drugs in prisons, regrettable as it is, is not unique to Northern Ireland. It affects the prison system in Scotland, England and Wales, too, and it requires drug testing to take place. There are also issues of support for those with an addiction problem. I assure him that we will continue to pay attention to the subject, and to invest in it, and we will continue to learn about what works best from prisons in other jurisdictions.

Illegal Drugs (Cross-border Movement)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on cross-border movement of illegal drugs; and if he will make a statement. (151126)

There is close and effective co-operation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border. Following the recent election in the Republic of Ireland, I hope shortly to meet the new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to discuss a range of issues, including the movement of illegal drugs.

Home Office statistics show that since 1998, when the current method of recording crime was introduced, there has been an increase of 35.5 per cent. in recorded drug trafficking offences. What additional help is being given to the police to help them identify the paramilitary groups that are involved in drug trafficking and dealing?

We take drug misuse and drug trafficking very seriously indeed, and I can assure the hon. Lady that there is close co-operation between the Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with the issue. I give them my full support as the Minister, and also as the chairman of the organised crime taskforce. We must stop drugs poisoning the lives of young people in communities in Northern Ireland, and none of us should rest until that is the case.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the four servicemen killed in Iraq over the past week—the three senior aircraftsmen from the RAF killed last Thursday, Chris Dunsmore of 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, Peter McFerran of 1 Squadron Royal Air Force, and Matthew Caulwell of 1 Squadron Royal Air Force, and at the weekend Lance-Corporal Timothy Flowers from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They died doing important work in the service of their country and our country, and we owe them and others who have lost their lives a deep debt of gratitude.

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

Since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, he has allowed the release from prison of 951 criminals who had been judged too dangerous to release from prison on a tag. If those people were too dangerous to be out of prison on a tag, why are they now safe to be released from prison without a tag?

I have studied the case that the Opposition have been making. Last week they quoted the National Association of Probation Officers, which says that it is not opposed to the end-of-custody licences. It has no objection in principle to them at all. As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about tagging and home detention curfew, the people who were let out were let out four and a half months early under home detention curfew. The people who were let out in the past few weeks were let out on 6 July, whereas otherwise they would have been let out on 24 July. There was only 18 days’ difference. The major change that we have made as a Government over the past few weeks is to build more prison places, which the Opposition could not afford because they would not have the money to do it.

I thank my right hon. Friend and all the other Ministers for the interest that they have taken in Gloucestershire. I pay due regard to the emergency services for the superb work that they have undertaken, and I pass on my commiserations to my colleagues in the county and all their constituents. However, can it be right that we are told that it will take 14 days to get back our main drinking supplies? There is much misinformation about who is off the mains supply and who is likely to be off. All the businesses, farms and individual households want some certainty. It cannot be the case that we must wait so long in this day and age because of the present crisis. For some time Severn Trent has needed to understand that it must act more quickly. I hope my right hon. Friend will make sure that that happens.

Let me join my hon. Friend in expressing my sympathy to all the people in the Gloucester, Tewkesbury and related areas who have suffered an enormous amount of inconvenience as a result of the storms and then the floods. I also pay tribute to the emergency services—the police, the fire services, the Army and all those who have worked to try to get supplies into the areas and to make sure that the utilities are back serving the people. My hon. Friend is right that Mythe water station failed. He is right that we would like it back in use as quickly as possible. He is also right that all the civil engineering capacity that can be brought to bear is being brought to bear. The water works were polluted. There is, therefore, a danger that the water pouring out from there would contaminate local people. We have made it clear to the Severn water company that it has to provide the bowsers for the area. Nine hundred have already been provided, and 900 will be provided within the next day. Drinking water is being provided through the retail stores. I think that the company has discharged its duty in ensuring that that water is available. Obviously we want Mythe water station back as quickly as possible. I will visit the area later today, and I have invited the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and Gloucestershire Members on both sides of the House to join me on that visit, when we will see at first hand how things are progressing. I think that the House owes a debt of gratitude to all the emergency services, and we will do everything we can to get supplies restored as quickly as possible.

I join the Prime Minister in sending my condolences to the families of Lance-Corporal Timothy Flowers and Senior Aircraftsmen Matthew Caulwell, Christopher Dunsmore and Peter McFerran, all of whom were killed in Iraq. Their deaths are a reminder of the daily sacrifices that our young men and women are making on our behalf, and we honour their memory.

I join the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) in praising the emergency services and local councils for the vital work that they are doing in dealing with the floods. The sympathy of the whole House will go out to those who have lost loved ones, those who have been flooded out or evacuated, and those who have had property damaged or lost.

Looking to the future and how we minimise the risk of future flooding, at least five times in the past decade the House has been told that co-ordination between the Environment Agency and local councils needs to improve. I welcome the review that the Prime Minister has set up. Can he confirm that it will look into co-ordination to ensure that this time it really is delivered, and will he ensure that we do everything possible to protect key infrastructure in the future?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that the whole House will agree on our thanks to all the emergency services. I have seen at first hand the superb work they are doing, and I look forward to meeting them later today. I also agree that the sympathies that go out to those who have been disconnected and those who are without vital supplies are shared by the whole House. We will have to consider what is to happen in the future. Of course, the main thing at the moment is to make people secure, to prevent any further incidents, and to do what we can to give people the supplies that they need.

The review was set up as a result of what happened in Yorkshire and Humberside. It is to help us to understand why the flooding has been so extensive and why we are seeing such extreme weather conditions, but also to learn lessons for the future. The siting of infrastructure is one issue that I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree about; the provision of supplies for dealing with floods is another. Drainage is an issue that has become particularly relevant because of what is happening on the roads. All those issues will be investigated in full, and I believe that the report that he will see when it comes out later this year will be extensive in considering both what has happened and what needs to be done. I hope that there will be an all-party consensus that we need to invest more in preventing floods in the future.

I am grateful for that answer. However, there is a specific question that some local councils are asking about the compensation that they will receive—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. People in this country are discussing these issues and they want these questions asked and answered.

Local councils are asking a specific question about the compensation that they will receive for the money that they spend on flood relief. They welcome the improvements that have taken place in the funding formula. The Prime Minister has said that there will be 100 per cent. relief, but the formula still requires councils to fund the first part of the bill, which can, in some cases, run into millions of pounds. So does 100 per cent. really mean 100 per cent.?

Under the Bellwin formula, it used to be 85 per cent. of costs recovered; it is now 100 per cent. as a result of an announcement that we made because of what happened in Yorkshire and Humberside, and that is extended to all the areas affected now. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary announced that the fund that was set up for Yorkshire and Humberside will be extended from £10 million to £20 million so that local authorities can make further claims where they face difficulties. I can also say that in addition, along with funding from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the regional development agencies, the total funding available for Yorkshire and Humberside, and to deal with what is happening in the areas we are visiting today, will be £46 million in total. We have substantially raised the funds available so that local authorities are in a better position to respond.

In addition to that, we shall have to look at the infrastructure needs for the future, which will be a matter for the inquiry set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In the immediate term, £46 million will be made available; in the longer run, we have to look at what we have to do to improve our infrastructure. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, expenditure on flood defences is being increased from £300 million to £600 million, and it will reach £800 million by 2011. I hope, again, that all parties will support that.

The focus in some parts of the country is now shifting from emergency response to clean-up. Can the Prime Minister tell us what steps the Government will take to make sure that the insurance companies pay up rapidly? Many people who do not have insurance will find their homes ruined and be left with little or nothing. Some local hardship funds are being set up, but is the Prime Minister satisfied that they are extensive enough to cover all the affected areas?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because his question allows me to explain that we have been talking to the insurance companies. They are in a position to act quickly, and we are urging them to do so. As for people who are uninsured, part of the reason why we are funding local authorities with the additional £20 million is to enable them to help people who are in particular difficulties. In addition, there are crisis grants and community care grants, and I know that money has already been paid out in Yorkshire and Humberside. We will do what we can to help people to get their insurance payments as quickly as possible, and to help the uninsured. Again, I hope that all parties want to make sure that people insure for the future and, at the same time, that insurance companies pay up quickly.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the very serious situation facing broadcasters in this country, with the revelations last week from the BBC, and this morning’s resignation by the head of GMTV. Will he hold urgent talks with Ofcom and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in an attempt to restore public faith in broadcasters?

This is a very serious matter, because it affects people’s confidence in television stations. Those people who are running competitions and telephone lines rely on the general public having confidence in what they are doing. I will certainly have the talks that my hon. Friend suggests, but it is a matter for those authorities to sort out, and they should do it quickly.

Once again, I associate myself with the expressions of condolence and sympathy that we have just heard from the Prime Minister, and like him, I wish to pay tribute to the local authorities, the armed services and the emergency services, some of whose work I have seen for myself.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the importance of infrastructure, particularly water treatment plants and power stations. In the review to which he has referred, set up by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will there be a detailed assessment of the precautions available to all such infrastructural facilities throughout the country, and not just those in the areas affected during the past few weeks?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman because that is exactly what we have to do. If we are dealing with extreme weather conditions, as we are, and if we are dealing with the situation that we found in Yorkshire and Humberside, and particularly in Gloucester, where a month’s rain fell within an hour, we have to look at whether the precautions we have taken in the past are satisfactory, whether infrastructure is sited in the right place, and whether drainage arrangements made in the 19th and 20th centuries are suitable for 21st century conditions. I assure him that the review has sufficiently wide terms of reference—I could read them out, but I shall pass them on to him—for all these issues to be looked at. But again, all parties will have to agree that further expenditure on infrastructure will be necessary, and that it will be a public expenditure requirement for the country.

The Prime Minister was responsible for the establishment of the Stern review, which he will recall pointed out the severe economic consequences of climate change. Is it not clear from the events of the past few weeks that we cannot afford not to take the necessary steps, or, indeed, not to spend the necessary money, to mitigate the effects of climate change?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. The Stern report, which the Treasury commissioned, said that global warming is very likely to intensify the water cycle and increase the risk of floods. It is an accepted part of the Stern recommendations that we have to do more. We have increased expenditure on flood defences from £300 million to £600 million. We will increase that to £800 million in the next few years. We will ensure that the necessary investment is made and, if the review reports that we need to do more, we will put it to the House of Commons that we should spend more to ensure that our infrastructure is properly equipped to deal with emergencies such as those that we have experienced.

My right hon. Friend knows that bingo clubs throughout the country provide a safe form of entertainment for many thousands of our constituents. However, due to a combination of factors, including the smoking ban, the removal of amusement games and the high taxation that bingo clubs face, 21 clubs have already closed in Scotland alone. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and representatives of the industry to ascertain whether we can find a way forward, especially through value added tax, to try to preserve as many of our bingo clubs as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have looked at the issue from time to time. I realise that he is passing judgment on a former Chancellor of the Exchequer when he makes his comments about what has happened to the taxation of bingo. I assure him that the current Chancellor will continue to consider those matters and that I too am happy to meet him to discuss them.

The agreement that we got on the budget is good for Britain. It means that we will make a proper contribution—[Interruption.]

I am sorry that Conservative Members do not want to support the enlargement of the European Union, which is the reason why the budget was adjusted. It was right to do that in the interests of supporting the economic development of eastern Europe. I believe that we got a good settlement for the country and that, when the House debates it in detail, Conservative Members will see that it is a good settlement for the country. I hope that, from the hon. Gentleman’s new position of freedom on the Back Benches, he might be able to support us.

My right hon. Friend knows that, today in Britain, 4,000 children live in care establishments and long to live in family homes with parents. What are the Government doing about that?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is very much part of the spending review that we are undertaking so that we can do more for children in the establishments that she mentioned and recognise their needs. I believe that all parties accept that we undervalued what we needed to do in the past. The review that is taking place will make for better policy for the future. I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend about those issues so that we can agree on a proper way forward.

(Witney) (Con): This morning, the Prime Minister said in an interview about the EU constitution—[Interruption.] There is plenty more. He said:

“if I thought I was doing something that needed a referendum I would say so.”

The Irish Prime Minister says that 90 per cent. of the constitution remains in the treaty and the Spanish Foreign Minister says that 98 per cent. remains. What figure would the Prime Minister put on it? [Interruption.]

Order. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be heard. I have said it before and I will say it again: I do not want a Whip at my side shouting. It is the last thing I want.

I have a simple question for the Prime Minister: if the Spanish Foreign Minister cites 98 per cent. and the Irish Prime Minister cites 90 per cent., what is his figure?

I see, Mr. Speaker, that we are quickly back to the old agenda. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, if he examines each aspect of the treaty and what we secured in our negotiations, he should support it, not oppose it. The first issue is the charter of rights—it is non-justiciable in British law, so we secured our negotiating objective. The second is justice and home affairs—we have an opt-in, so we secured our negotiating objective. The third issue is security, foreign affairs and defence policy, which remains intergovernmental, so we secured our objective. The fourth is social security—no expenditure affecting us will be made without an emergency brake that we can put on, so we secured our negotiating objective. National security will remain a matter for individual Governments, so we secured our negotiating objective. He might be better off, in the interests of unity within his own party, looking at what the chair of his democracy taskforce said only a few days ago. He said that, as a result of what we had negotiated, a European referendum would be “crackpot”, “dotty” and “frankly absurd”.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to trade quotations from former Chancellors, I can tell him about a former Chancellor who promised a referendum and who put it in his manifesto. That former Chancellor is him. He talks about his red lines, but he had red lines with the constitution, and they are pretty much the same red lines. That is why the man who wrote the constitution says that the changes have been few and far between. That is why the President of the Commission is going round saying that it will usher in

“the world’s first non-imperial empire”.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing says that more than 90 per cent. remains and Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, says that the figure is 95 per cent., so which is it? The Prime Minister claims to be a numbers man, so is it 90 per cent., is it 95 per cent. or is it 98 per cent.? Come on.

Let me just read from the mandate agreed at the Council:

“The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing Treaties and replacing them by a single text called ‘Constitution’, is abandoned.”

That was the decision made at the intergovernmental conference in Brussels. The Conservative party should recognise that that was achieved and that all our negotiating objectives, including the opt-outs, so that the charter is non-justiciable in English and British law, were also achieved. The Conservative party has got to wake up to the fact that we succeed when we negotiate in Europe, and we do not need to have an empty chair.

Why does the Prime Minister not wake up and read this quotation from his trade Minister? He said:

“This is a con to call this a treaty; it’s not. It’s exactly the same: it’s a constitution.”

That is the man whom the Prime Minister put in the House of Lords as his trade Minister. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to restore trust in a Government that he has been part of for 10 years; he says that he wants to involve people in the decisions affecting their lives; and he says that he wants the state to be the servant not the master. Yet on the key test of whether to honour the commitment that he personally gave to hold a referendum, he has failed. Why is he afraid to trust the people and hold that referendum?

The right hon. Gentleman is back to the old agenda. It did not take long after the Ealing, Southall by-election for him to retreat—the old agenda on Europe, the old agenda on grammar schools, the old agenda on spending and the old agenda on tax cuts. The wheels are falling off the Tory bicycle, and it is just as well that he has got a car following him when he goes out on his rounds. Let me just quote what his old friend Lord Kalms has said to him:

“We’re having a very bad period.”

He said that they needed to do some rethinking and that

“Some of the policies need substantial working on.”

He continued:

“What we should do is pack up”,

go to our constituencies,

“and come back in the autumn”

and rethink. That is what the Tories have got to do.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging Royal Mail to enter into meaningful discussions with the Communication Workers Union and thus ensure that the jobs and the good pay and conditions of Royal Mail employees, such as those at Mount Pleasant sorting office in my constituency, are protected?

Obviously, we want decent pay for all workers in this country, but we must also tackle inflation, and people have to accept settlements that will ensure that inflation is low in the years to come. While I want to see justice for every low-paid worker in this country, we have to remember that if we do not win the battle against inflation, we will have a bigger problem next year or the year after. That is why I believe that all workers should look at pay settlements as a means by which we can conquer inflation over the next few months.

Q3. Given the warnings from the Chief of the General Staff at the weekend that the Army was out of reserves, and given that the Defence Select Committee heard yesterday that more than 90 per cent of terrorist attacks in Basra are now being perpetrated on British forces, is it not time to bring the British forces out of Iraq and to concentrate our efforts on Afghanistan, which the west neglected by rushing to war in Iraq on a false prospectus? (152112)

We will meet our responsibilities in Iraq. They are responsibilities in relation to the United Nations and to the new, democratic Iraqi Government. We have reduced the number of troops from 44,000 to 5,500, and in three provinces we have moved from a combat role to an overwatch role. We will have to make a decision about moving to an overwatch role in a fourth province. I do not think that we would be doing the Iraqi Government or our commitments to the United Nations any service by setting an artificial timetable now.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that we must support the effort in Afghanistan. It is the front line against the Taliban, and this is where we would like to see greater burden sharing by all our NATO and other allies. It is also where our Army and our defence forces are doing an excellent job, as they are in Iraq. Where the Army and the defence forces ask for extra and new equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is being provided. We have already spent £0.75 billion on updating the equipment that is available to the forces, and, in Afghanistan in particular, I was able to announce new helicopters for our forces for this year and next year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, when it comes to the provision of equipment to deal with these emergencies, we have been forthcoming in providing the resources necessary.

Q4. Holly Davenport from Wakefield was just five years old when she suffered burns to 50 per cent. of her body after falling into a scalding hot bath. Each year, 600 people suffer the same terrible fate as Holly, three quarters of whom are children under five. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and the “Hot water burns like fire” coalition, so that we can impress upon him the need to change the law to enable the installation of thermostatic mixing valves on the baths in the 3 million new homes that we are going to build over the next 13 years, to protect the most vulnerable in our society? (152113)

I want to praise my hon. Friend’s campaign on behalf of her constituents in the light of the terrible damage and injuries that have been inflicted. We share her concern to do everything that we can to minimise scalding as a result of failures in hot water systems. We are working closely with the industry to provide guidance and training to those who install and maintain hot water systems, and to review building regulations, which are important in regard to determining what further action is necessary. I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend and her campaigners to talk about these issues.

Today, a Scottish opinion survey shows the standing of the Prime Minister trumped by that of the Scottish National party Scottish Government. May I ask the Prime Minister to turn this around? Who is he supporting as the next leader of the Labour party in Scotland, or is he standing behind Jack McConnell?

The former First Minister has done an excellent job for Scotland. During his period in office, and those of his predecessors, 250,000 jobs were created in Scotland. I believe that the state of the Scottish economy is due in no small part to the work of this Government with the Labour Scottish Administration, when they were in power. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s party will do nothing to damage the economic record that has brought such prosperity to Scotland.

Q5. Will my right hon. Friend commit to boosting UK manufacturing by making a commitment to the new aircraft carriers that are much needed by the Royal Navy, and by ensuring that those platforms will have UK-built aircraft? If the joint strike fighter transfer does not go ahead, will he ensure that the Typhoon operates from those carriers? (152114)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has always taken an interest in the ordering of aircraft carriers. The announcement on them is being eagerly awaited in Portsmouth, Glasgow, Rosyth and Barrow and, indeed, throughout the UK maritime industry. This is a major project for the future of the shipbuilding industry, and a major addition to the strategic strength of the Royal Navy, and I hope that he will be pleased by the announcement that the Defence Secretary is going to make in a few minutes.

Q6. The Government’s first election manifesto outlined plans for Scotland and stated:“The Union will be strengthened and the threat of separatism removed.”Given that we now have a separatist leader of the Scottish Executive and given the increasing resentment in England about the imbalance in funding and voting between Scotland and England, what positive proposals does the Prime Minister have for dealing with that—or is he just in denial? (152115)

I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that in both the Scottish and Welsh elections, nearly 70 per cent. of voters voted against separatist parties. Even after the elections that he referred to, there is no majority for separation and no majority for independence in either Scotland or Wales. I would have thought that the Conservative party had learned its lesson on these issues. When the leader of the Conservative party is in Scotland, he says that he supports devolution wholeheartedly, but when he is in England, he says that he has doubts about whether it should happen at all. [Interruption.] Oh yes. I believe that the Conservative party should make up its mind and support the Union and devolution.

Q7. Is it fair that 1.8 million children in this country grow up in poverty because they live in a household where nobody works? That is the single biggest issue in my constituency and the Rhondda. Is it not time that we did far more to ensure that every child gets an opportunity in life, and that we got more people off benefits and into work, so that we could break the vicious circle whereby poverty cascades down through the generations? (152116)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When the employment figures were published last week, 29 million people were in work—2.5 million more than in 1997. That is as a result of the new deal—opposed by the Conservative party; the minimum wage—opposed by the Conservative party; and new measures in public expenditure—opposed by the Conservative party. We will continue to do the right thing to create jobs in this country.